Not enough directors have the good sense to put Willem Dafoe centre stage. Those gaunt, crazed features, with the jagged-toothed smile of someone who wants to eat you, no doubt mitigate against his playing a leading man. When he does get the chance, it's invariably as a loner – a vampire, or Scorsese's Christ – and it's as a loner that he stars in The Hunter, an absorbing eco-thriller that pits Dafoe against a variety of other weird-looking carnivores in the Tasmanian wilderness.
His Martin is not so much a big-game hunter as a mercenary with a very flexible skills set. After the sighting of a supposedly extinct Tasmanian tiger, he is hired by a biotech company to find and kill the animal, bringing back the rare tissue samples that will, no doubt, serve some dastardly purpose. Renting a room from single mother Lucy (Frances O'Connor), who lives with her two children on the edge of the wilderness, Martin ventures into it in search of the beast. But his cover, of an academic studying Tasmanian devils, hasn't washed with the local loggers, who suspect him of fuelling the environmental lobby against their trade. Soon the hunter becomes the hunted.
Based on the novel by Julia Leigh, this is an accomplished feature by Australian director Daniel Nettheim. He may over-egg his final reel with unnecessary tragedy, but until then the film works well – as a gripping thriller, as a melancholy reflection on our treatment of endangered species, and as a human drama in which the meticulous, humourless Martin is thawed by his exposure to damaged Lucy and her kids.
Comedy isn't the French forte, and nor, it seems, is clear thinking about male mores. In Guillaume Canet's recent Little White Lies, the only man you didn't want to throttle was in a coma. That character was played by Jean Dujardin, who in The Players not only gets to walk and talk, but also write, direct and produce. I can only imagine that his success with The Artist left him light in the head.
Dujardin and Gilles Lellouche are the brains behind a series of skits on male adultery, whose team of directors includes The Artist's Michel Hazanavicius. They peak at competence, but are mostly excruciating. The framing stories involve the two stars as serial cheats who resent their spouses finding fault, and take themselves off to Vegas to express their liberté. Only in "The Question", in which real-life partners Dujardin and Alexandra Lamy play a couple who spend a long night revealing their infidelities to each other, is there a spark of truth. Unsurprisingly, this was directed by a woman. Emmanuelle Bercot, merci.
Luis Buñuel’s masterpiece of Surrealist storytelling (or untelling) The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie receives a welcome 40th anniversary revival. And for the bourgeoisie at its most indiscreet, there’s Dark Horse, the latest from Todd Solondz, with Jordan Gelber as a suburban case of arrested development.