Sunday, January 6, 2013

Netflix streaming tip: Daniel Nettheim's THE HUNTER--as close to tragedy as movies get

In high definition -- which is how we viewed it via Netflix streaming -- THE HUNTER*  is a particularly beautiful film. What makes it so special, however, is its tragic view of the world in which we currently live. Set in the mountains of Tasmania, the large island off the southeast of Australia, the movie never screams negativity.

Quiet and relatively placid, save for a couple of altercations and one very suspenseful scene, this award-winner in its home country moves along with a odd deliberation provided by its writers (Alice Addison and Wayne Fimeri, from the novel by Julia Leigh) and its director (Daniel Nettheim, shown below, of mostly Aussie TV). Yet it is never for a moment boring. In fact it simply gets better, tighter and more to the point as it moves slowly forward.

Willem Dafoe, above, in one of his best roles (that covers a lot of good territory) plays Martin, some sort of mercenary, in this case one who can track and trap or maybe kill an animal -- the Tasmanian Tiger, thought to be extinct. He's been hired by a large corporation in the biotech industry with an agenda that only slowly becomes clear.

Martin takes up a rather shaky residence with a mother (Frances O'Connor, above, center) and her two children (dad's gone missing in those mountains some time back, and mom is not a little depressed), but this hunter soon warms to them and they to him. Green activists, meanwhile, are trying to shut down logging on the mountain, and the loggers are growing increasingly angry.

Friend of the family, Jack (played by Sam Neillabove), has designs on mom and is clearly annoyed at Martin's intrusion; he may very well have another agenda, as well. This meaty stew is stirred slowly and not at all melodramatically. Even when events occur that would be fodder for Hollywood's big-budget violence-and-explosions factory, these are handled with a smart restraint that keeps us focused on the real issue.

When that issue comes to the fore at the climax, so well has its foundation been laid that the finale hits like a ton of bricks. For anyone who cares about the environment, the saving of endangered species, and the question of how to deal with unchecked corporate power, the movie has much to say, little of it promising. This is why I feel it comes about as close to real tragedy as any film I've seen in a long while.

That is also why the denouement is a tad disappointing. The movie-makers or maybe the producers, I suppose, were attempting to offer us a little uplift. At this point, however, uplift is not particularly believable, given what we've seen and know. Slight spoiler ahead: Better to have left the boy be, and Martin to his fate. The Hunter is available now on DVD and Blu-ray, is streamable and probably available as well via VOD.

*Not to be confused with the movie of the same name that opened at the beginning of 2012.


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