It is a perennial paradox. Studios spend vast sums of money bringing together the efforts of hundreds of skilled technicians, well-drilled actors and extras – yet cinema is often at its most compelling when simply showing an individual silently going about their business. There are countless examples: James Stewart stalking Kim Novak in Vertigo, David Hemmings poring over his prints in Blow-Up, Daniel Day-Lewis scrabbling underground in There Will Be Blood. We tend not to regard "just doing stuff" as acting – but perhaps making it all so absorbing is actually the hallmark of a great actor.
In his new movie The Hunter, released tomorrow, Willem Dafoe does "stuff" very well. His character is searching for the last Tasmanian tiger,