Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Hunter

Forget the attempts at witty post titles, you might as well get some idea what the movie is.

Willem Dafoe is hired by a 'military biotech' to hunt down, kill, and harvest material from what is suspected to be the last Tasmanian tiger. Why a military biotech would be interested in that was unclear to me until near the end when someone mentions Tasmanian tigers are thought to have a paralytic toxin in their bite.

So Dafoe goes to Tasmania, posing as a university researcher, which makes him unpopular with the loggers, who hate the environmentalists for takin' their jerbs. Said environmentalists are interested in Dafoe, who claims to be doing work involving Tasmanian devils, but failed to do enough research on his field to really be able to pass. He survives by mostly being monosyllabic and vague, which seems to be the character's natural tendency anyway. He's staying at the home of a family previously sent down here on research. The husband and father has been missing since last summer, the wife and mother, Lucy, spends all day in bed doped out on various meds. The two kids, Sass and Bike (the names they gave themselves), are left to irritate the fastidious Dafoe. There's also a guide, played by Sam Neill, who behaves in a proprietary manner towards the family.

You know how it goes. Dafoe tries to focus on his job, but is increasingly drawn into the lives of the family he's staying with. Bike seems to know something about the tiger, but Dafoe's employer is running out of patience, and there's someone, or maybe multiple someones, watching him.

Dafoe can play an oddball without much gift for interacting with people pretty easily, and he does a good job there. The scenery is gorgeous, and now I want to read books about the ecological and geological history of Tasmania. The loggers and environmentalists are vague caricatures, but the things they're fighting over don't interest Dafoe, so there's no reason he'd bother to know them in any greater depth.. The kids seem to take to Dafoe too easily, grow comfortable around him too quickly. The actors themselves aren't doing a bad job, it's what they were given to work with.

The problem is I was entirely uninterested in the stuff going on with the family, because we know it's going to end badly. There are too many people with their eyes on Dafoe, who either don't like him already, or wouldn't like him if they figured out the truth. He's doing such a poor job selling his cover story, it feels inevitable it's going to get blown*. Either way, either the family is going to die so he can feel bad, or he's going to get killed protecting them. He's ventured too far outside his normal procedure for it to end otherwise.

So I was really in to the parts about him in the wilderness. Searching for likely places, killing things to use as bait, mapping everything out, checking the traps, and of course, the fact that part of the time, he's being observed. Waiting for him to find the tiger, or for the someone watching him to confront him. What's he going to do when he finds the tiger? What are other people going to do if they find out he did?

The parts with the family are a way to ease tension, act as a release valve for the audience the way they seem to for Dafoe. I didn't want the release valve, so it felt like padding. It's a gorgeous movie, though, and the parts I liked, I liked a lot.

* Lucy, once she's off the pills, figures him out within a couple of days, and seems ready to confront him, but then opts not to.

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