The Hunter
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The Hunter

Willem Dafoe plays a heartless poacher with a heart of gold. Wait, what?

Daniel Nettheim (Australia, Special Presentations)

Friday, September 9, 9 p.m.
Ryerson Theatre (43 Gerrard Street East)

Saturday, September 10, 3:15 p.m.
TIFF Bell Lightbox 1 (350 King Street West)

After battling a talking fox in Antichrist, Willem Dafoe is on the prowl again, playing poacher-for-hire Martin David in this overlong commercial for Tasmania. Martin is hired by a shady-seeming biotechnology company to trek into the Tasmanian jungle and extract the blood of the Tasmanian tiger, long thought to be extinct. The film sets up a fairly straightforward man vs. wild scenario (think The Edge, but with an extinct tiger that takes forever to show up), but gets waylaid on the way to its rewards when Martin holes up in rented room on the outskirts of the Tasmanian forest and sets about mending a broken home.

Arriving to find a house in shambles, a mother (Frances O’Connor) zonked out on prescription painkillers, an AWOL father, and two precocious kids taking care of themselves, Martin’s strong-silent exterior begins to show a few fissures. Problem is, we never get a sense of Dafoe’s hard-ass black heart (he’s a mercenary hired to wipe out near-extinct animals, remember) before he begins playing surrogate dad. Presenting himself as an animal researcher, he also starts clashing with some local loggers who are about as friendly as the welcome wagon in Straw Dogs. The spurious characterization of the conflict between environmentalists and the employed sets liberalism back about 100 years. While beautifully shot by Robert Humphreys, we’re never afforded the opportunity to watch the nooks and crannies of Dafoe’s exceptional face play against the crags of the backdrop. And this despite a too-late-game Predator tease which, like most promising things in The Hunter, goes nowhere.