Like all films that were inspired by books, the celluloid version of The Hunter will probably suffer in comparison. Not having read the 1999 novel by Julia Leigh (who also wrote and directed the 2011 Australian movie Sleeping Beauty, starring Emily Browning), I cannot make comparisons, but as a film The Hunter is a bit of a mixed bag.

Willem Dafoe (The Green Goblin in the ‘old’ Spider-Man movies) stars and features in virtually every scene as Martin, a gun-for-hire who’s sent to Australia by a military-biotech firm that wants him to hunt down the last-surviving Tasmanian tiger, a creature that was previously thought extinct since the 1930s.

Martin arrives in Tasmania and, pretending to be a university wildlife researcher, stays at the shack of a missing environmentalist, whose grieving wife (Frances O’Connor) is in a prescription drug-induced semi-coma, and whose two kids are basically free to do what they like.

Facing hostility from local loggers who assume he’s another ‘greenie’, Martin divides his time between searching through the abundant greenery of Tasmania for the tiger, and hanging around at the shack. As the film moves on, it becomes apparent that Martin may be conflicted, especially as he feels himself drawn to the family with whom he’s staying.

Dafoe is excellent as the lone hunter, in a role that relies heavily on facial expressions and a physical presence as so much of the film’s 100-odd minutes are spent focusing on his solitary time in the woods. But where The Hunter falls down is its failure to fully engage with its audience. It would’ve helped to have occasionally heard what was going on in Martin’s head rather than make assumptions.

Sam Neill plays a small but pivotal role as a local who keeps an eye out for Martin, but otherwise The Hunter is completely reliant on Dafoe, in a story that unfortunately lacks the potency of, say, the classic book-turned-movie storytelling that The Old Man and the Sea provided for Spencer Tracy.

John Byrne