Directed by: Daniel Nettheim
Written by:Alice Addison
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill, Frances O’Connor, Morgana Davies, Sullivan Stapleton, Callan Mulvey
Released: October 6, 2011
Grade: A-

It was 10pm on a Sunday night at the Toronto Film Festival.  I was sitting in a small theatre waiting for a movie to start when I struck up a conversation with a Canadian film student who was sitting beside me.  We’d seen 32 different films between us (not bad for 4 days work) but there was only one that we’d both managed to see – The Hunter.

We compared notes about the film’s strengths and we couldn’t come up with too many weaknesses.  This may sound corny but I kind of felt proud to be Australian.  A small film set in an isolated part of Tasmania was playing in front of huge crowds at one of the world’s biggest film festivals.  Not only that, it had become a talking point.  It was very cool.

I can’t take any credit however.  Most of it belongs to the film’s director, Daniel Nettheim.  I admit to being sceptical when I first read the premise for The Hunter.  A guy has been hired by some secretive biotech company to try to find a Tasmanian tiger, despite the fact they’ve been extinct for almost a century.

It’s a story that could easily be laughed at but Nettheim has transformed it into a moving, compelling drama.  The focus isn’t on the elusive tiger but rather this man’s discovery of who he is and what he stands for.  We learn a little more with each scene and it builds to an emotional climax.

Two-time Academy Award nominee Willem Dafoe (Platoon, Shadow Of The Vampire) delivers a strong performance in the leading role.  We don’t usually see high profile American actors in small Aussie films but Dafoe read the script and was immediately attracted to this intriguing character and the isolated setting in which he finds himself.

The cast also includes two familiar Aussie names – Frances O’Connor who plays a single mother trying to get her life back on track follow the disappearance of her husband and Sam Neill (working with Dafoe for the third time) who plays a local guide with an intimate knowledge of the area and its inhabitants.  Both are great but it’s the delightfully natural performance of 9-year-old Morgana Davies that will leave many saying “wow” on leaving the cinema.

Much of the film was shot in the remote Tasmanian wilderness and it wasn’t the easiest of shoots for the cast and crew.  Let’s just say that the rain and snow that you’ll see in the film weren’t produced with special effects.  I don’t think cinematographer Robert Humphreys (Somersault, Suburban Mayhem) would have been complaining though.  The beautiful setting allowed him to showcase some stunning images of a seldom seen part of our country.  Tourism Australia will be thrilled with the free advertising.

A storyline involving a group of loggers isn’t developed in enough detail but that’s about the only weakness worth mentioning.  The Hunter is one of the best Aussie releases of the year and I expect it to earn several nominations when the revamped Australian Academy Awards are held later this year.  Don’t miss it.