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Cinema review: The Hunter @ Cornerhouse

By Robert Johnson, MM Film Columnist

I knew very little about ‘The Hunter’ before I arrived at Cornerhouse.

As the first few minutes played out to that classic set up of ‘solitary mercenary-faceless corporation-top secret mission’ I rolled my eyes and settled back into my comfy chair confident that I would be churning out an easy review about a thriller-by-numbers.

How wrong I was.

About ten minutes into the film we are hit with about a minute’s worth of total silence as our mercenary watches footage of his intended target, the Tasmanian Tiger.

Shot in Hobart Zoo in 1933, the silent black and white footage shows the last known Tasmanian Tiger caged, prowling and alone.

In this day of social networking and constant, relentless contact what we witness during this footage is a loneliness our needy generation cannot possibly fathom and I found the one minute of total silence in which I was forced to contemplate that fact incredibly moving and it cranked this intelligent and thought provoking thriller up a gear.

Long thought to be extinct, Martin David (Willem Defoe) is sent out to the Tasmanian rain forest by Red Leaf (the aforementioned faceless corporation) to investigate possible sightings of a Tasmanian Tiger and to bring back vital organs and DNA.

His mission is top secret and as such arrives at his lodges (a ramshackle, wooden eco-house) in the guise of a visiting professor researching Tasmanian Devils.

The house is occupied by a spirited young girl and her enigmatic younger brother. The mother is a botanist and we learn that the father disappeared up in the mountains that Martin will soon be traversing.

What happened to him is a mystery. Did he fall and break a leg? Was he being, as he suspected, followed? Does his disappearance relate to the hostilities toward what the townsfolk call ‘The Greenies’?

The first half sets the foundations for viewing intrigue but it is when the film takes Martin up into the rain forest that it really takes off. What a beautiful, astonishing place.

Robert Humphreys, the film’s cinematographer, deserves high praise indeed because he puts you in the forest right next to Martin.

When it rained, I felt wet. When it snowed, I felt cold. He captured the eeriness, loneliness and other-worldliness of one of the worlds few frontiers so well the forest became a character in itself.

I’m a huge fan of Willem Defoe, partly because he reminds me of my Uncle Len but mostly because he uses his gnarled and handsome face to perfection in every role he plays and here is no exception.

Wordless scenes of him hunched over a campfire have a primal feel as you get the sense that the hunter is becoming the hunted and he brings an unspoken menace to the scenes of confrontation with the angry loggers.

It could be argued that his transformation from ‘solitary mercenary’ to ‘stand-in-pa’ is a little hasty but with Defoe it’s somehow plausible.

I’m not going to give anything away about the films conclusions. It will suffice to say that films of the ‘Eco-Genre’ are, by their very virtue, bleak.

However, as long as you leave the cinema acknowledging that fact and as long as you leave the cinema feeling ‘stirred’ then the film has truly done its job.

‘The Hunter’ will get you thinking and for that reason above all else you should go and see it. Haunting, thought-provoking and a very good film indeed.

‘The Hunter’ is on for another week at Cornerhouse. Check the website for screening times and enjoy. 

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