Willem Dafoe is one of those great actors who has managed to have a career in Hollywood that has veered between huge blockbusters (Platoon, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man franchise) and smaller films (American Psycho, Shadow Of The Vampire, Antichrist). I tend to believe that he always delivers a solid performance, even when he’s in a dud (Body Of Evidence, the poor man’s Basic Instinct). Dafoe’s latest staring role, in the Australian film The Hunter, is definitely not a dud. In fact, it’s visually stunning and graced with another strong Dafoe character.
Directed by Daniel Nettheim and based on a 1999 novel by Julia Leigh, The Hunter stars Dafoe as Martin David, a mercenary hunter hired by a biotech company to track down the supposedly extinct Tasmanian Tiger and acquire its organs and tissue for military research. Posing undercover as a university professor, David lives with a Tasmanian family whose father has been missing for 8 months. Throughout the film, Dafoe’s character is forced to manage his job and his increasing closeness to the family.
There are two real stars in The Hunter. The first is Willem Dafoe, who gives his character a guarded heart brimming with real emotion. Though hired to do a killer job, he is clearly complex, listening to opera music to relax while reluctantly taking on a fatherly role with the children surrounding him, Sass and Bike. Dafoe has many moments throughout the film where he’s on his own, working in the wilderness as he hunts his prey. Credit to him as an actor that those scenes are as captivating as when Dafoe is engaging with the other actors.
The other star of The Hunter is the scenery. Make no mistake, this is a gorgeously shot film, and the wilderness Dafoe traverses through is spectacular. While there are some definite slow moments during The Hunter, the landscape manages to pull you back in every time.
In Australia, The Hunter received 14 Australian Academy Cinema Television Arts nominations. Here, it’s yet another under the radar film, but one that deserves an audience, if only to watch Willem Dafoe carry the majority of the picture with his stellar performance. The Hunter is out on DVD and Blu-ray now.