THE HUNTER'S PRAYER
Director: Jonathan Mostow
Cast: Sam Worthington, Odeya Rush, Allen Leech, Amy Landecker, Martin Compston, Verónica Echegui
MPAA Rating: (for violence, drug use and language)
Running Time: 1:31
Release Date: 6/9/17 (limited)
Review by Mark Dujsik | June 8, 2017
Here's an action thriller that seems to exist to define the idea of middlebrow entertainment. The Hunter's Prayer is too familiar and formulaic to work in any significant or even trivial way, but it's so inconsequential that it's impossible to fault the movie too much. It's bland in a, well, bland sort of way.
It's the type of movie that makes one wonder if there's a template for the screenplays of certain genre exercises, into which the names of characters and locations can be inserted alongside the basic descriptions of those characters and the details of the plot. Here, we get a seemingly ruthless assassin who's really just an ordinary guy with some issues—the hitman with a heart of gold, in other words.
The archetype's name in this variation is Lucas (Sam Worthington), and his issues involve a woman who has disowned own, a child whom he has never met, flashbacks to combat in the Middle East, and an addiction to a specialty drug that makes all the killing easier to handle. If Paul Leyden's screenplay (based on the novel For the Dogs by Kevin Wignall) had given Lucas a therapist, someone might have won at their game of Cliché Bingo.
It doesn't help that Worthington's performance is on such a low register that it display much of anything. This is to say that, through Worthington, the extent of the character is his morose mood, communicated through grumbled recitations of dialogue that are, occasionally, barely audible. The character doesn't have a personality, let alone a sympathetic one.
In a way, that makes him the correct man for the job of bringing us through this movie, which has little personality itself. It's directed by Jonathan Mostow with enough proficiency that it moves from one point to the next without confusion. It's routine material that has been assembled in a competent way.
The plot involves Ella (Odeya Rush), an American college student studying abroad in . Her father and stepmother are killed by a different assassin in the movie's opening minutes, and Addison (Allen Leech), the man who contracted the killings, has sent Lucas to kill Ella, as a lesson to anyone else who might think of betraying him in the way that the young woman's father did. Instead, Lucas saves Ella from another hired killer, and the chase, which lasts for pretty much the extent of the movie, begins.
There's no time to develop any of these characters, except to the degree that their motives and actions keep the plot moving. Lucas' struggles with addiction and posttraumatic stress disorder give the story a bit of time to pause for a moment (although one has to question Mostow's unfortunate decision to make the character have his breakthrough moment with his pants around his ankles). Whatever we learn is briefly touched upon (through flashbacks to war and a couple lines about the family he could have had), barely acknowledged, and then dismissed to cut back to the chase.
One of those pauses allows the movie to introduce Dani (Verónica Echegui), another assassin with a seemingly intimate knowledge of Lucas' problems. She's one of those instantly intriguing characters that a movie such as this is destined to underutilize. For her part, Ella is little more than a damsel in distress until the entire business needs to reach a climax, which means that her mind turns to vengeance.
Addison is the heartless villain, who's breeding a killer variety of dog and treats his son with almost disdainful sternness. One of the funnier bits in the movie involves the kid's not-too-precise abilities with a bow, which, according to Chekhov's most famous rule, leads to a third-act shot with said bow. One might think it confirms the son as a poor shot, but if one thinks about it a bit more, maybe the kid's aim is true, considering how terribly Addison treats the boy. That possibility is what makes it funny.
Otherwise, humor is in short supply, save for the sort of the unintentional variety on a few occasions (There is a decent gag involving a last-second rescue with a speeding car in reverse, which comes out of nowhere—literally and, because we've been trained not expect any intentional jokes here, figuratively). The movie is as deadly serious as its semi-anti-hero and just as rote and predictable.
Still, though, the thing moves like a shot, which is saying something in terms of finding some sort of merit here. The fact that its clichéd and formulaic components are so obvious—even within the context of the movie's momentum—points to the notion that the problems of The Hunter's Prayer are foundational, not formal. The central problem is that we've seen this before—done better on some occasions and certainly done much worse on more than some. The movie falls squarely in the middle, with the final thought on it being that, while it's not good, it definitely could be worse.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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