Plot holes and cloudy character motives abound in this handsome but rather confused Australian thriller. Whether they exist in the acclaimed 1999 novel by Julia Leigh, I don't know, but they certainly weigh down the film version.

The overarching implausibility is the idea that the thylacine or Tasmanian tiger, which has been extinct since 1930, might be profitably sought just a short stroll from the road-end in the Tasmanian bush.

That's where Martin David (Dafoe) goes looking anyway. He's a hunter hired in Paris by a pharmaceutical company to find a specimen of the animal's DNA (its saliva, we will learn, contains a valuable paralytic toxin, although quite what makes that so valuable when we've had curare for 200 years is anyone's guess).

The cluttered narrative that develops brings David into contact with warring greenies and loggers; the bereft family of a zoologist who went missing a year earlier; and Jack Mindy (Neill), a hard-bitten local and a mysterious figure to everyone, including, as far as I could gather, the writer.


The idea that Dafoe's character might succeed where three generations of science has not never rises beyond the isible, particularly since he spends most of his time making animal traps to designs that featured in the Bumper Book for Boys in the 1950s.

But much of the rest of the action is mystifying, too. Whose side is Jack on? Why do the menacing miners talk tough but act lamely? And why do David's employers turn sour on him?

Audiences other than New Zealanders will doubtless think the scenery spectacular, but if you've spent any time in Te Urewera, you may think you've seen better. The same goes for the movie.

Stars: 2.5/5
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill, Frances O'Connor
Director: Daniel Nettheim
Running time: 101 mins
Rating: M (violence, offensive language)
Verdict: Good looks aren't always enough if you're really dumb