Starring Willem Dafoe as a scientist hired by a biotech corporation to track down the Tasmanian tiger, previously presumed extinct. He is regarded as a ‘greenie’ by resentful locals fearful for their jobs. Dafoe passes himself off as Martin David studying Tasmanian devils. He stays with a family. Frances O’ Connor plays Lucy the wife of a scientist who went missing on some field trip. Defoe has to face the hostility of the locals over his relationship with Lucy as he helps restore the family to normal functioning. Dafoe is initially accompanied by Jack Mindy (played by Sam Neill) as he goes into the wilderness. Dafoe has to deal with a rival hunter. He thinks he has tracked the animal to its lair…
Like the film Into the Grey this is about a Jack London type story about a man up against the wilderness. In films about hunters we usually get the macho loner on some professional and personal mission. He is usually meticulous with details, indeed downright pernickity and antisocially jealous of his freedom. He has a pedantically proprietorial attitude to his craft and suffers no fools (nearly everyone but himself). He usually has a gorgeous woman in his life who waits patiently for him or she may be deceased. Defoe’s character fits into this mould rather unsympathetically. The Tasmanian scenery he works in is magnificent, the details of the grey and white wood acting as foreground or camouflage make it look like a great perceptual puzzle. Defoe in the wilderness is dwarfed by its vastness resolving into hallucinatory detail, a vivid and strange gestalt. He seems to compensate for his intrusive and threatening presence by his vigilance for the tiger, this ordeal initiates him into the rhythms of life in the rainforest. The curiosity about the search for this animal is that it’s a tragic irony, the pursuit of it will probably guarantee its extinction, yet there are many plants and animals we could already save without searching for something which may not exist. Still, I suppose the tiger becomes a sort of metaphor of the psychological ‘elusiveness of Defoe’s hunter’. In searching for the tiger, if he finds it, what will he do? If he leaves it alone, others will come, and if he finds it he will guarantee its harassment and unintentional extinction. What he does is to resolve this dilemma in a tragic manner.
Defoe is up against that familiar role from central casting: the surly, resentful, local peasant/farmer/redneck who wants the new arrival to get lost or else. Sam Neill plays that familiar stand by, the helper who may have a sinister agenda of his own. Defoe as the rugged loner also has the Clint Eastwood role of surrogate father and mentor to a wild hippyish family. He briefly brings contentment to the abandoned house, and after there is tragedy he might find love. In spite of the familiarities, this is a spectacular and involving film, well acted as it holds attention throughout.