One of the greatest pleasures of being an avid film lover is discovering those overlooked gems. The Tasmanian-set Australian allegory The Hunter (directed by Daniel Nettheim) is one such film.
The titular character is a man with no back-story played by Willem Dafoe in what is ironically the peculiar actor’s richest role since portraying Jesus in Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ. His Martin David is a man tempted by necessity to track and capture the elusive Tasmanian Tiger (thought to be extinct) by a stereotypically evil corporation (Red Leaf – echoing the Weyland Corporation alluded to in The Grey and the driving force in Prometheus) looking to unlock the secrets of the beast’s DNA and its alleged paralyzing toxins.
The cresting and rolling landscape of Tasmania (which can only be described by this ignorant American as a cross between the Smoky Mountains and a tropical rainforest) are on display in a coldly haunting way. The hills seem cut off and without an apex – as if Mother Nature came down with the wind and shaved off the peaks with a butter knife. David becomes the lodger of an environmentalist widow (the elusively alluring Frances O’Connor) with two young children (the endearingly naturalistic Morgana Davies and Finn Woodlock) and is guided into the Tasmanian wilderness by Sam Neil. Continue reading →
In the opening scene of David Michod’s Australian crime saga, Animal Kingdom, a Melbourne teenager named J (James Frecheville) sits stone-faced and clueless after his mom dies from a drug overdose. After the police drag the body away, he calls up the only person he knows will come through for him, his previously estranged but all too willing to reconnect grandmother, Janine (Jacki Weaver in a performance that deserves awards’ buzz). Janine just happens to be the proud and perky lioness ruling a family of small time bank-robbers and drug-dealers. The eldest, “Pope” (Ben Mendelsohn) is a loose cannon on the cops’ most-wanted list. J quickly gets caught up in the middle of a mess after the cops take out a family friend resulting in a gangland retaliation, and a detective (Guy Pearce) becomes determined to use the impressionable J against his uncles.
Michod weaves an intermittently compelling tale that is part coming-of-age story and part mob flick spun Down Under. His framing and mise-en-scene is technically sound but sometimes too self-conscious, and the slow-paced editing makes the film seem longer than it is and hinders some of the drama. Continue reading →