Nettheim's movie is a hybrid – part wilderness adventure, part mystery and part domestic drama. It doesn't make for a particularly satisfying mix, but is watchable enough nonetheless. This is mainly thanks to Dafoe, a fine actor who holds all the elements together well here. His subdued countenance is just right as the stolid scientist on assignment to find a near extinct Tasmanian tiger. His ordered existence is rendered asunder with dilemmas he could not foresee.
He takes lodging in the rough hewn Australian home of O'Connor and her two children. At first the two tykes seem to be fending for themselves as said mum is always asleep in bed. At least grizzled guide Sam Neill is on hand to offer some assistance, but he's somewhat of a shady character, knowing far more than he lets on. When Dafoe treks into the wilderness on his search for the tiger he encounters opposition from mysterious quarters. Who is out to stop him? His efforts are stymied at various times and he has to keep returning home where he bonds with the two children. Why has their father, a zoologist, disappeared?
Dafoe is a stalwart lead – subtle and commanding though he doesn't enliven proceedings with energy. His demeanour envelops the movie as a whole. It’s sombre and resolute, mildly intriguing but bereft of pace and tension. When violence finally erupts it lacks suspense. Director Nettheim seems half hearted in delivering the goods here but is more successful in delineating the psychological aspects – and his cast serve him well. O'Connor, whom I last saw in The Importance of Being Earnest 10 years ago, is believable as the troubled mother who has gone to pieces at the disappearance of her husband. Gradually she comes back to life and has an easy camaraderie with Davies and Woodlock as her offspring. Neill looks haggard and all the better for it, his sly laid back delivery perfect for the character's ambivalence.
A tactful affair then, devoid of thrills but done with care. Not bad at all.