Don’t blame Willem Dafoe for the failure of John Carter. Then again, don’t hail him for the success of 2002’s Spider-Man. His slow, tense delivery, deep, reedy voice and craggy, angular features intimates themselves best when it comes to the intimate. And even though The Hunter, based on the novel by Julia Leigh, finds its true home in the somnolent Tasmanian expanse, noted TV director Daniel Nettheim presents the ominous outdoors as a small stage on which the minimal plot and Dafoe’s tightly wound acting work their magic quietly.
An older, bearded Dafoe plays ruthless mercenary-turned-scientist Martin David close to the vest — there’s tenderness at the heart of his treacheries. While seeking out the thought-to-be-extinct Tiger for its genetic material, he gets drawn into the mysteries of the forest and becomes attached to a family whose home he sets up camp in. Some of the familial interactions force the character and the film to lose focus, but even this distraction eventually figures into the film’s true action and conspiracy at the heart of the movie.