Willem Dafoe has one of those faces that tell a thousand stories, a face with character that belongs in a Sergio Leone movie. The Hunter has the perfect role for Dafoe as Martin David, who is hired by a company to hunt and kill a rare Tasmanian Tiger. The company Red Leaf need the DNA of the creature, who may or may not exist. Dafoe's weathered face suits Martin's hunter exterior, but he also possesses a subdued and gentle personality. Martin David is quiet, neat and a lover of classical music. Why are all killer's like this? And he is a killer, not of humans, but his hunt is dedicated to animals. Even when he is approached by Red Leaf, it looks like the Mafia hiring a hitman. He is a professional, his hunting style seems simple and direct.
Martin is sent to Tasmania to stay with a broken family in a broken home. The father and husband was too in search of the rare tiger, but disappeared during the summer up in the mountains. Martin presumes by falling or freezing, but as time goes on his doubts about the existence of this tiger and the father's fate change. This happens through the help of the children, who basically run the household, while mother (Frances O'Connor) still suffers from shock and depression due to her husbands disappearance.
In possibly the best scene of the movie, the mother, Lucy wakes up to Bruce Springsteen's hauntingly beautiful I'm On Fire. The scene begins as one of hope as Martin fixes the generator, which enhances his bond with the children. We, the audience are uplifted as Martin celebrates and dances with the kids outside. Lucy awakens with hope in her eyes, but we quickly realise before her the despair and sorrow that is about to happen. She wanders slowly through the romantically lit house to the front door to see her children in the arms of a man with his back facing her. She presumes it is her husband, who has returned, hence the happiness of the kids. She walks up behind Martin and hugs him with relief, turns him around only to see that it is not her husband. The disappointment is devastatingly poignant, especially with Springsteen's haunting tune in the background.
Lucy falls back into her depression, but Martin is quick to help her. He cleans her up in the bath with the help of the kids and warns them not to give her anymore of the medication pills. However, this isn't a melodramatic feature, though elements of it are perfectly portrayed. Business is business and Martin has a tiger to hunt. The locals of the area are unwelcoming and hostile towards Martin due to the fact that they are on the brink of losing their jobs due to logging protests. The hippy protesters admire Martin because they believe he is only researching Tasmanian Devils.
Mystery and paranoia unfolds as Martin believes he is been followed by what seems to be the aggressive locals. A shady character is Jack played by Sam Neill, who is a dirty old guide, who barely takes care of the family. It is a funny role for him because he usually plays more defined or cultured characters rather than the old guy using the outback. Martin's suspicions are also pointed towards Red Leaf when he figures out that they also hired Lucy's husband to hunt for the tiger. Lucy's young son "Bike" is silent for most of the movie, but is the closest bond to Martin. It is through his direction that Martin begins to believe that the Tasmanian Tiger does exist.
Martin's various trips to the Tasmanian hunting grounds bring him closer to the tiger, but also reveal something new about the mystery of the missing husband/father and who is pursuing him. When Martin eventually comes face to face with the very last Tasmanian Tiger, emotions run high and we understand why he does what he has to do.
The Hunter is the best film of 2012 so far. It succeeds in balancing an intriguing story with greatly stylised and emotionally charged scenes, along with breathtaking shots of the Tasmanian landscape and some charming and funny moments (when the kids hop into the bathtub naked with Martin, who is afraid he will be labelled a child molester). All these factors I found to blend perfectly, to create a fantastic thriller with some real emotional depth. The climax isn't necessarily a happy one, but really one more of relief. I find it is the little things that make this film truly great. It's all about action and reaction here, like the I'm On Fire scene or Martin's reaction when he comes face to face with the tiger.