From the moment The Hunter’s colorful, rock-’n’-roll-stoked opening credits fill the screen, it’s clear that writer-director Rafi Pitts is attempting something a little different from the usual restrained Iranian neo-realism. The Hunter is as deliberate as any other Iranian art-film, building its story incident by incident, quietly following an ex-con (played by Pitts) as he learns that his wife has been killed and his daughter has gone missing in the wake of an election protest. But the movie is frequently bathed in halogen glow and deep shadow, at times looking like Taxi Driver as Pitts drives forlornly from his home to his job as a factory night watchman—a job that keeps him away from his family more than he’d like. After Pitt gets the news about his wife and daughter, he flips out and goes on a shooting spree, before retreating into the woods, pursued by two bickering policemen. And though The Hunter maintains the same even tone after it turns into a chase thriller, the look begins to resemble the work of William Friedkin and Walter Hill in its clean, elemental approach to action.
The Hunter is way too heavy-handed at times about depicting its protagonist’s sense of loss, and even with the expressionistic touches and brisk editing, the plot bubbles along a little too slowly for a potboiler. But the film is stunningly composed, with images that convey Pitts’ sense of being ground down by modernity and beset by institutional hypocrisy. Throughout, The Hunter sprinkles in footage of car washes and factories—facilities where the processes have been automated, removing the human element—along with scenes set in the hazy outdoors, where it’s hard to tell who’s on whose side, or why. There’s nothing overtly political about The Hunter, but it’s no accident that it’s set against the backdrop of The Green Revolution, or that the hero’s frustration is born of bureaucratic indifference, along with a sense that long before he lost his family, the system was conspiring to keep him lonely.