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TIFF11: "The Hunter" Disappoints, and Really Should Have Been Helmed by Herzog

By Daniel Walber | Spout September 9, 2011 at 11:33AM

There’s something deeply mysterious about extinct species, or at least the more theoretically majestic ones (those other than the much-lampooned dodo). The very thought of coming across something like a Quagga conjures up visions of a strange and ancient stage in our history, not to mention the obvious connection to our human fascination with death. It’s something about which I’m sure Werner Herzog would be terribly articulate and which in theory could make for an intriguing and thought-provoking film.
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There’s something deeply mysterious about extinct species, or at least the more theoretically majestic ones (those other than the much-lampooned dodo). The very thought of coming across something like a Quagga conjures up visions of a strange and ancient stage in our history, not to mention the obvious connection to our human fascination with death. It’s something about which I’m sure Werner Herzog would be terribly articulate and which in theory could make for an intriguing and thought-provoking film.

Unfortunately, “The Hunter” isn’t it. Perhaps had Herzog directed this adaptation of Julia Leigh’s novel it would have gone differently. As it stands, the movie squanders the obvious potential for real thematic weight. Willem Dafoe is Martin David, a dubious character hired by the shadowy Red Leaf corporation to hunt down the officially extinct Tasmanian Tiger. A single representative of the species may be left lurking in the wilds of Tasmania and Red Leaf wants the venom it uses to kill its prey for presumably sketchy capitalist purposes.

While executing his unique assignment Martin stays with the wife and children of a recently disappeared environmental activist. It seems he was presumably murdered by locals infuriated over the massive job loss in the logging industry, incurred by the green movement’s attempt to preserve the ancient forests of the island. As Martin navigates this confusing world he only further complicates the family life of this missing Professor Armstrong, bonding with his young kids and attempting to help their grieving mother recover from an addiction to painkillers.

There’s a lot going on, as should be obvious by now. The film has a ton of potential for deep delving into a grand number of themes. Director David Daniel Nettheim could zoom in on the conflict between the environmental movement and the working class loggers, the awkward intrusion of Martin into a tragedy-stricken family, the sketchy world of international corporate intrigue, or the almost mystical issues of extinction and death inspired by the Tiger itself. Yet zoom he does not. “The Hunter” touches on all of these ideas but barely puts much real thought into any of them, leaving us with a film that disappoints more than it provokes. Perhaps the poor Tasmanian Tiger should have been left to its extinction.

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