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Defoe stars in Sydney-born filmmaker Daniel Nettheim’s adaptation of Julia Leigh’s 1999 novel, about a mercenary hunter’s search for the elusive, perhaps- long-extinct, Tasmanian tiger.

It’s a gripping, man-vs-nature-vs-capitalism tale with solid emotional underpinning. Nettheim teases out a story that has Defoe’s hunter, Martin, working for a shady client and sent out into the Tasmanian brush to search for the tiger. It is here he encounters others out to beat him to the prize, with a tale of greenies vs loggers playing out amid the scenic backdrop.

Martin is a loner who doesn’t need anyone, and Defoe excels as a man at home in the wild, with only his wits and a rifle for company. Society is not on his list to engage with – until he finds lodgings with Frances O’Connor’s grieving wife Lucy, whose husband went missing on the trail of the tiger a year earlier, potentially at the hands of displeased locals.

Nettheim uses the film to consider the case for conservation versus the logging industry’s generation of local jobs, and he presents both sides of the argument with rigour. He captures the stillness of the outdoors, too – Martin’s scenes alone in the wild are fraught with tension – although the story loses momentum near its end.

It is Martin’s emotional thaw, though, that most affects. His interaction with Lucy’s two children brings him out of his self-serving fug, and ultimately informs his decision on whether to complete his mission or re-engage with the world.

Good for: A taut thriller with smarts and heart, too

Starring: Willem Dafoe, Sam Neil | 15 | 90mins

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Film review: Willem Dafoe and Sam Neil hunt the Tassie tiger in film The Hunter
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