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Willem Dafoe Is a Lonely 'Hunter' in Australian Eco-Thriller

The Hunter
Magnolia Pictures

In "The Hunter," Martin (Willem Dafoe) is a mercenary with an unusual assignment: to track and kill the Tasmanian tiger, an animal thought to be extinct since the '30s.

Locals have reported seeing the Tazzy tiger or its remains on the lush island of Tasmania for years, and these reports have sparked the interest of a biotech company eager for the animal's DNA. Once Martin arrives in Tasmania, a gorgeous island just off the coast of Australia, he discovers his mission complicated by both the tension between loggers and environmentalists and the dynamic of the curious young family he's staying with.

Martin's trek across the wilds of Tasmania takes him through small towns and the many wild environments of the island: trickling creeks in the woods, soggy rainforests and even a snowy mountaintop. The hostile locals and enthusiastic protesters offer an interesting political subtext; the "Greenies" think Martin is one of them, although his mission couldn't be more against their principals. The locals see him as an outsider and a threat, yet another American sent to rummage through their private business and throw a wrench into their economy.

As part of his undercover identity, Martin is sent to stay with a local family in a funky hippie house in the woods. The house is falling apart -- there's no hot water or electricity until Martin fixes the generator -- and the two children are left to their own devices since their father went missing and their mom took to her bed. With help from the adorable Sass (Morgana Davies) and her silent little brother Bike (Finn Woodlock), Martin rouses their mother Lucy (Frances O'Connor) from her pilled-up haze. Once Lucy is back on her feet, Martin begins to learn more about her missing husband, his involvement with the local "Greenies," and perhaps why he went missing. Jack (Sam Neill) has taken a special interest in Lucy and her kids, although it's not clear on where his allegiances lie.

The gorgeous scenery and tense hunt are broken up with trips back to Lucy's house to refuel and check in with his bosses, but they also serve to refresh our interest in the human side of this story and of Martin himself. The escalating hostilities of the locals and his client that threaten him, his livelihood, and the family he's growing to care for add a welcome emotional element.

"The Hunter" is based on a novel by writer-director Julia Leigh ("Sleeping Beauty") and directed by Australian native Daniel Nettheim. It was produced by the team behind the gripping crime thriller "Animal Kingdom" with Guy Pearce, Joel Edgerton, and Jacki Weaver. You can check out "The Hunter" in theaters on April 6 or on VOD right now.

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