Published Sep 06, 2011Television veteran Daniel Nettheim takes a stab at adapting Australian countryman Julia Leigh's novel of the same name, but fumbles the characterization and motivations of the titular mercenary, played by Willem Dafoe.
Martin David is an expert hunter contracted by a military biotech company to investigate rumours circulating about reported sightings in Tasmania of the Thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger, as it's popularly known, thought to have been extinct since 1936. He's tasked with collecting blood and fur samples if the rumours prove true, and above all else, keep his mission a secret to prevent interest arising in competitors.
Under the pretext of coming from a UK university to study Tasmanian devils, Martin is assigned residence with a struggling family. Two little kids greet him: precocious, f-bomb dropping Sass (Morgana Davies) and silent younger brother Bike. Their father has been missing (long enough to be presumed dead), but the kids won't – can't – entertain that notion anymore than their drugged-out, nearly comatose mother.
Trying to find a human connection in his life, Martin gradually inserts himself into the broken family's affairs between trips into the wilderness to track and set traps for the elusive, carnivorous marsupial. His interactions with the family, especially the kids, are the heart of this adaptation, but without any information on Martin's background, it's difficult to understand what drives him beyond basic human decency.
An underdeveloped sub-plot about unfriendly local loggers who hate outsiders and environmentalists fails to add much dramatic tension or a meaningful comment on the conflict between employment and conservation besides self-interest begets tunnel vision.
Other than a handful of gorgeous aerial shots of the landscape, Nettheim doesn't bring much visual acumen to the table, relying on serviceable shots to tell a straightforward story that would've benefited from a bit more vision.
The situation, and choices Martin is forced to make, carries emotional heft, even after the film nearly devolves into a standard thriller close to the climax, but I can't shake the feeling that material this weighty could've been handled with more elegance and insight. (eOne)