Mark Reviews Movies


2 Ĺ Stars (out of 4)

Director: William Friedkin

Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Benicio Del Toro, Connie Nielsen

MPAA Rating: R (for strong bloody violence and some language)

Running Time: 1:34

Release Date: 3/14/03

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Review by Mark Dujsik

Sitting, watching The Hunted, I couldnít help but constantly notice how skillfully made the movie is. Action and chase scene after action and chase scene, the thought entered my mind, and that was many times, considering the movie is essentially a series of action and chase scenes connected by and existing solely for the completion of a simple plot premise. The only problem is that, despite my recognition and acknowledgment of the technical prowess on display, I never found myself involved in the proceedings. Iím not entirely sure why that is, but it must be in part due to the streamlined structure of the plot, which at first makes it seem as though there are more developments to come. But near the end, it becomes apparent that, no, thatís all the plot there is to be had. It may also have to do with the fact that the characters exist only to set up the action. Even with two incredibly talented actors at the frontóone a strong screen presence and the other a lively character actoróthereís very, very little to get involved with on a character level. Whatever the reasons, the movie is never as exciting as it appears it should be.

The movie starts in Kosovo in 1999, where a team of special operatives, including Aaron Hallam (Benicio Del Toro), has orders to kill an important military official holed up in a mosque in the midst of heavy air raids. The mission is a success, but after witnessing the horrors of mass executions of Albanians (unsettling to watch, firstly because of its reality and secondly because of its use in a thriller), Hallam has trouble coping with life away from combat, continually recalling the horrible images which he saw first hand. Three years later, two hunters are killed and their bodies dismembered by a mysterious man in a Portland area forest. They are the fourth victims, and the FBI is at a loss. The agency calls in the help of retired Special Forces trainer L.T. Bonham (Tommy Lee Jones), who has assisted them in the past. Agent Abby Durrell (Connie Nielsen) shows L.T. the scene of the crime, and he is convinced that it is one of the men he trained. As he goes off on his own to hunt down the man in the woods, he is not surprised to meet Hallam.

What follows is the single most exciting part of the movie, as L.T. and Hallam battle it out in the forest. Itís the first of two direct physical conflicts between the two characters, and they are intense. The choreography is skilled and brutal, particularly the final battle in which blood flies and splatters with abandon. There is one major logistical flaw immediately before the fight, where L.T. is held back by two elaborate booby traps. One had to have involved the cutting down of a tree or at least two very thick branches and the setup of a subtle, almost indistinguishable tripwire, and the other involves a shooting spike and a snare that sends the victim hanging over a cliff. There just isnít enough time for Hallam to set those up, especially when the two men make a knife for themselves (L.T.ís is made of stone, Hallamís of metalóitís like the Stone Age versus the Industrial Age). Even before that point, there is an extended cat-and-mouse game in which Hallam starts off in a car chase, dodges on foot around objects on a busy street, runs and bicycles through a park, gains access to a moving train, and somehow ends at the top of a bridge.

Director William Friedkin handles all of these sequences with the confidence of an experienced craftsman, but that still brings me to my central problem with the movie. I felt distanced from the majority these scenes. Part of it has to do with the plot. Thereís an interesting military conspiracy revolving around Hallam thatís cryptically alluded to but never fully brought into play. There seems to be a few key pieces of the puzzle missing, and, as a result, the final fight feels anticlimactic. On a character level, the movie falls short as well. One character seems to exist only to make bad decisions and eventually be killed off, although the second part, to my surprise, never comes to pass. The central actors do their best with the little theyíre given. Tommy Lee Jones has a way of controlling a scene, whether heís giving orders or investigating foliage (of which he does a lot). Benicio Del Toro gets to play one of those parts actors love. From his early shadowy appearances (a clear homage to Apocalypse Now), he perfects the vacant stare of a man who has snapped. The screenwriters (three of them againóthat seems to be a prevalent number) clumsily add a woman and her daughter into his back story, but nothing comes of it.

The confrontations between these two actors, both physical and spoken, and Friedkinís command of the technical aspects of the movie do help propel The Hunted somewhat beyond the typical hunted-hunter thriller. And yet I wish I could say more in its favor. Alas, that is not the case.

Copyright © 2003 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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