John Hanlon Reviews

Film Reviews

The Hunter

Genre: Drama

Director: Daniel Nettheim

Cast: Willem Dafoe, Sam Neil, Frances O'Connor

MPAA-Rating: R

Release Date: April 6th, 2012

It’s been nearly twenty-five years since Bruce Willis tore up the screen as John McClane in the unforgettable action thriller, discount
Die Hard. McClane was a sarcastic but admirable police officer forced to take on a group of terrorists to save his wife and her fellow hostages. In the new film Lockout, capsule Guy Pearce plays a similar role. He’s a sarcastic but (somewhat) admirable former CIA agent forced to take on a group of escaped convicts to rescue the president’s daughter—another in a long line of damsels in distress.

In this situation, more about
the president’s daughter is the naïve Elie Warnock (Maggie Grace). She’s sent on a humanitarian mission to what is believed to be an exemplary outer-space prison. In this prison, there have been no sexual assaults, no riots and no accusations of physical assaults. Of course, all of the prisoners are heavily-medicated.

Elie hopes to use her trip to see what effect the drugs are having on the prisoners firsthand but while she’s interviewing one of them, he overpowers the security officers. Soon, all of the drugged prisoners are free and roaming around the ship like rats in a cheese factory.

And the rats are in control in this prison facility. As an intelligent and manipulative prisoner, Vincent Regan plays Alex who wants to negotiate with the government agents who are trying to save the hostages. But it’s the unsettling Hydell (Joseph Gilgun) who proves to be the most monstrous prisoner on board. He’s bug-eyed and crazy enough to kill the hostages without a second look.

It’s one thing to have a diplomatic prisoner negotiate from a position of power. It’s another to negotiate with a psychopath. And that’s what Hydell is.

Pearce plays Snow, a recent prisoner who is still grounded on Earth. After being accused of murder, he’s offered a choice: He can serve out his prison sentence or be sent into space to bring the president’s daughter back. After showing some hesitation, he agrees to the deal.

And Pearce’s performance is one of the highlights in this otherwise uninspired B-Movie. As Snow, Pearce evokes an aura of invincibility but has a sarcastic streak that’s always worth a few laughs. When the president’s daughter escapes from the prisoner’s clutches and is searching for a way to escape, she asks Snow if her father has a message for her.

“Yes,” Snow answers bluntly, “you were adopted.”

It’s that type of dialogue and interplay between the two leads that makes this feature worth watching. Yes, some of the action sequences are poorly done and the plot—like that of B-movies before it—becomes incredibly over the top. But people don’t go to films like this to watch a realistic story about a prison outbreak. They go to enjoy the fun and this movie—above everything else—is fun.

The screenplay was co-written by Luc Besson, who came up with the concept. Besson was one of the screenwriters of films like The Fifth Element, Taken and Columbiana so viewers should know what to expect in a movie like this. It’s nothing Earth-shattering but Lockout was a solid ninety minutes of entertainment. Sometimes, that’s enough.
There is a point in the new film The Hunter when the title character—played with quiet intensity by Willem Dafoe– wonders about the Tasmanian tiger that he’s hunting for a mysterious corporation. The character inquires if the animal is the last survivor of its kind and if the creature itself is simply “hunting and killing, web
waiting to die.” And both the concepts of mortality and the sanctity of nature play major roles in this new drama based on the novel by Julia Leigh.

As hunter Martin David, sales Dafoe plays an outsider in a small community that often rejects strangers. “Go home, Greenie scum,” one local writes on his windshield using a material that would be better placed in a toilet than on a vehicle. The local logging community believes that David is their nemesis and treats him as such. They believe that David is there—not to hunt—but to undermine their way of life.

But that is only the beginning of this dark and gritty film that provides Dafoe with a strong and powerful leading role.

David doesn’t seem to like outsiders but he befriends a local woman played by Frances O’Connor, who lets him stay with her. Her husband has gone missing and she’s been reduced to a pill-popping loner without much of a handle on life. Her two children—a boy and a girl– seem to be raising themselves.

Eventually, David helps leads his boarder out of her darkened state and offers a welcome reprieve from the dreary life she’d been living. When David fixes the generator lighting up the house and filling it with music, it seems like Christmas has come again. The children are so excited and thrilled to get normalcy back into their lives that they embrace David for his generosity.

One of the strangest aspects of The Hunter is how old-fashioned it is. It doesn’t rely on chase sequences or violence to compel the audience. It’s more of a character study than anything else and the characters it studies are both the title one and nature itself.

And in showing nature, this movie often slows down to let viewers absorb the atmospheric brilliance of the wilderness David walks through. The story simply pauses in these moments. It pauses to let us watch the lead character kill a rabbit for dinner. And it pauses to show how natural inhabitants of the woods devour the animal’s remains.

It’s oftentimes difficult to appreciate a movie like The Hunter. Moviegoers are often so accustomed to fast-paced thrillers rather than character studies that movies like The Hunter can disappoint. Even I was surprised by the film’s undeniably slow pace. But if you let yourself be wrapped in this story, it will surprise you.

This is a movie that loves nature and embraces atmospheric sequences showing nature as cold and intriguing as it often can be.

Early on, David—who is hiding the fact that his objective is finding the rare tiger—tries to throw people off his scent. “You know they are extinct. They’re gone,” he says about the tiger. They may be rare but as the movie shows, such tigers are still around.

And movies like this—despite their rarity and the little publicity that they receive—are around as well. And I’m thankful for it.

Review by: John Hanlon