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Featured DVD / Blu-ray Review: The Hunter

July 3rd, 2012

The Hunter - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

The Hunter is an Australian film that never managed to crack the top ten in its native market and finished with just over $1 million there. That's equivalent to about $10 million here, given the relative size of the two markets. It debuted in Video on Demand here before a short theatrical run. Now it's coming out on DVD and Blu-ray, but will it find a larger audience?

The Movie

We meet Martin, a mercenary, as he is meeting with his contact for a job. He's being hired by Red Leaf, a military biotech company, who is looking for tissue samples from the Tasmanian Tiger (thylacinus cycnocephalus). The Tasmanian Tiger is thought to be extinct since 1936, but up till today, there has been the occasional sighting. (This is actually in real life as well as in the movie.) In the movie, Red Leaf has two confirmed sightings in the past year and they know that once the word gets out, there will be too much competition and the chances they will get the specimen first will be remote. With that information, Martin heads off to rural Tasmania.

When Martin gets to his destination, he stays at the Armstrong residence and tells people he's a university professor studying Tasmanian Devils as cover. The mother, Lucy, is near catatonic due to abuse of sleeping pills. She's been depressed ever since her husband disappeared is the nearby wilderness and her two kids, foul-mouth Sass and mute Bike are left on their own to take care of themselves. With no electricity and barely any running water, he goes looking for another place to stay. However, while asking at the local pub, he's told there are no rooms available and the local loggers make it clear his type, environmentalists, are not welcome in a logging town. They even make thinly veiled threats against his like and imply something has happened to Jarrah Armstrong and they might be responsible. Of course, it's just as likely that this is tough talk. It is dangerous country and it wouldn't take much to slip and fall and die in a place where the body wouldn't be found, at least not before they were eaten.

While preparing for his first trek into the wilderness, Martin asked Sass to call a number while he is gone. In return, Sass asks Martin to take a photo of her dad to see if he can find him. Just then, Jack Mindy arrives. Jack's a friend of the family and offers to be Martin's guide. Jack is friends with the local environmental group, which was started by Jarrah. The pair get to talking, while hiking, about Tasmanian Devils, the Tasmanian Tiger, and eventually Jarrah. Jack does think the loggers might have actually done something to Jarrah. When Martin and Jack get deep into the woods, Martin asks to go the rest of the way alone. Jack is obviously a little confused by this. After all, they were just discussing how dangerous the terrain was, and how Martin has already made enemies with the loggers, but he agrees and departs. For the next two weeks, Martin lives in the wilderness, making observations, taking notes, and setting traps. Not much happens, not until he hears a gunshot and finds his truck vandalized. Obviously the loggers found it.

Upon returning to the Armstrong's place, Martin begins to bond with Bike and Sass and starts helping around the house. He gets the generator working, with Bike's help. (Bike used to help his dad fix it before his dad disappeared.) The result isn't all good. When the generator kicks in, the record player starts and Lucy, who has been drugged this entire time, wakes up and thinks her husband has come home. This takes an emotional toll on her and she lapses back into her drug-fueled sleep. At this point, Martin decides to take a more active role in the Armstrong household. Getting in touch with his more human side is good for his soul, but it could delay or jeopardize his mission, and the people he's working for won't be pleased with that.

The Hunter can basically be divided into four movies. There's the parts with Martin in the wilderness alone looking for clues to the whereabouts of the Tasmanian Tiger. The parts with Martin and the Armstrong family as he helps Lucy recover and bonds with Bike and Sass. And finally the parts dealing with the danger from the loggers and Red Leaf, the former who want to prevent him doing what they think he is doing, and the latter who might be willing to kill to make sure job is done. Depending on your point of view, one of these will work better than the others. Perhaps you'll like the man vs. nature more than the family drama or the suspenseful elements. Regardless, there should be something here you will like.

The biggest strength the film has is the acting, led by Willem Dafoe. He might have been able to carry the film all by himself in the wilderness with next to no human interactions. However, I did like the more tender moments with the kids. Morgana Davies was particularly good in the film and I was not surprised she picked up a couple of award nominations in her native Australia for her performance. On a side note, she earned three nominations for her performance in The Tree. She's only ten years old and already she's had two award-worthy performances. I can't wait to see what she does next. On the other hand, the film's conspiracy part was the weakest. I'm still not 100% sure why Red Leaf wanted the Tasmanian Tiger so badly. Surely there were easier ways to accomplish their goals than hunt down a possibly extinct animal. Hell, send an expedition to Java or deep in the Amazon rainforest and I'm sure by random luck they would have found something just as useful to a biotech firm.

The Extras

Extras on the DVD include an audio commentary with the director, Daniel Netthiem, and the producer, Vincent Sheehan. There is a four-part, 33-minute long making of featurette, and finally seven minutes of deleted scenes, with optional audio commentary. I don't have the Blu-ray to compare, but it is $2 less than the DVD, so how can you argue with that price.

The Verdict

The Hunter is a very good movie with a number of excellent performances, and a slightly confusing out of place suspense plot. The extras on the DVD and the Blu-ray lift it to the purchase level, while the Blu-ray is actually cheaper, so it is the way to go.

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Filed under: Video Review, The Hunter