Writer/director Rafi Pitts also stars in The Hunter (2010)
Although it's being marketed as a Death Wish (Michael Winner, 1974) style revenge thriller, this Iranian chase drama is actually a close relative of 2010's The American (Anton Corbijn) in as much as they are both quiet, meditative films which nod their head to genre cinema of the 1960s/70s - Clooney's star vehicle to Antonioni and this film to Melville. The Hunter is a moving, lucid and effortlessly cool essay on justice and revenge, scored by intimate silences, ringing gunshots and a lone electric guitar. Pitts threatens to sink the film with his self-indulgent and expressionless performance, but in many ways it is also the element which marks this as such a strong retro crime vehicle; he is complacent and unhurried, sturdy in his posture and measured in his stance - this hunter may not be the best dressed but he holds the same controlled presence of Alain Delon in Le Samouraï (Melville, 1967). Is the film perfect? By no means - but contemporary Iranian cinema has a hard time getting distributed and this is an efficient diversion for fans of classic genre cinema.
It does indicate toward greater things though, especially in the midsection which builds an ocean of calm into a wave of shattering violence. The film opens on a photograph taken in 1980 of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard celebrating the first anniversary of the Iranian Revolution. There is a political context to The Hunter, reflective of Iran's current situation (the film was shot during the 2009 election campaign) but it is never shoved down the viewers throat or gets in the way of story and character. Background news reports are about the closest the film comes to directly engaging the audience with politics but it's equally important in terms of setting up a backdrop for the psyche of our protagonist - whose wife and daughter were shot and killed in a shootout between police and demonstrators. Ali (Pitts) is a hunter who used to spend days away in the forrest. After spending time in jail for an unspecified crime he now wants to dedicate himself to family. After they are killed something snaps in Ali and he tips over the edge - above the highways of the city he aims his rifle at the deadliest predator of all - humans. He waits for a police car and takes out the cops in it, and after a fog-bound car chase (as calmly observed as the rest of the picture, there are probably about six cuts in the entire sequence) which culminates in Ali's car flipping over. Leaving his rifle in the car he retreats into the woods, to the primordial state of hunted.
Although it is edited with rhythm and precision the events that lead up to this are somewhat uneven. Pitts has opted for an artistic, minimalist tone and the spaced-out dialogue doesn't really help in informing us of character. There's no real sense of who anyone is, where they come from or the strength of their ties. In a tightly shot police interview Ali expresses clear love for his wife and daughter, but his emotional turmoil is repressed into a shell of escalating rage which does not engage on an emotional level. His face is a blank canvas - it has been washed clean by a devastating loss. But even when he executes his revenge it is with a steely composure, and a silent one. Two pursuing policemen finally catch up with Ali and they are the typical representations of good cop/bad cop. One wants to quicken the system of justice by executing Ali whereas the other argues the importance of standing trial, saying that a judge must decide. In their own minds they are both right and in the misty expanses of the winter forrest their debate it bound to boil up to violence. This is where the muted tone of the film becomes most efficient. The police and their prisoner become lost and as the rain pelts down the line between good and bad becomes unclear. They hole up in a little shack where ultimately a twist in the tale will change everything. "You think wearing that uniform will help you escape?" one character asks. That line has deeper resonance than its surface meaning and the final minutes actually provide an more interesting setup than the initial, more familiar one. It's a shame then that this is where the film comes to an abrupt end, and the cycle of violence is complete. I haven't seen a film like this come out of Iran before but I would certainly like to see another pick up where this film leaves off. It's not that The Hunter is a bad film; as an exercise in minimalist revenge and an homage to cinema of the past it's an intelligent and briskly paced piece of work. But as a film in its own right? It's not quite the sum of its parts.
DVD Extras: 20 minute interview with writer/director/star Rafi Pitts, and the original theatrical trailer. Vanilla, but the interview is quite interesting.