"The Hunter": Dafoe's Soldier Is Best Taken Alone

Drawing baths and listening to classical music, refined soldier of fortune Martin (Willem Dafoe) is sent Down Under by a military-biotech firm that wants him to bring back a Tasmanian tiger. Although the crocodile-jawed creature was declared extinct in the 1930s, sightings have been reported, and the company wishes to exploit the animal's toxin. For his mission, Martin pretends to be a university wildlife researcher, bunking in an off-road shack with two kids — the potty-mouthed Sass (Morgana Davies) and her mute little brother (Finn Woodlock) — and their mother, Lucy (Frances O'Connor), doped-up on Lexapro and other dolls for The Hunter's first half. Based on the 1999 novel by Julia Leigh (the writer-helmer of last year's maddeningly opaque Sleeping Beauty) and directed by Australian TV vet Daniel Nettheim, The Hunter is too many films in one: a man-against-nature thriller; a mystery involving the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of Lucy's naturalist husband, despised by the local loggers; a family drama centering on a loner's transformation to protective paternal figure. The graceful force amid all this unconvincing bustle and distracting plot buildup is Dafoe, present in every scene. But it is only when Martin waits alone for his prey in the Tasmanian woods that we're happy to pass the time with him.

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