Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
The Hunted has a good cast and fine
production values, but died a quick death in theaters. It's a lean, action-packed drama with
gritty hand-to-hand fight scenes, yet something in its script or execution is woefully deficient.
William Friedkin hasn't had a solid hit in decades, and despite his exemplary action direction, all
the decisions that crippled this potentially good film seem to be his.
Ace tracker L.T. Bonham (Tommy Lee Jones) is brought out of retirement to capture
Aaron Hallam, a top-secret special forces soldier who has gone renegade (Benecio Del Toro). Hallam
has been killing supposed 'civilians' in the Pacific Northwest, but he's not just a madman - and
Bonham is one of the few who know his secret.
William Friedkin used to be the number one man for serious films about crime, criminals
The French Connection opened eyes
to the reality of crimefighting at the police level, and To Live and Die in L.A. had some
good things to say about the crazy life of Treasury agents. The Hunted talks about
a shadowy super-soldier and the equally talented tracker who hunts him down, but both the interest
and the edge have been lost. The refreshingly low-key confrontations between Aaron Hallam and L.T.
Bonham are jarringly realistic, but other action comes off as no
more believable than old Republic serials. Only superheroes can escape crashing trucks and churning
waterfalls, and go through marathon physical ordeals with serious wounds. There's a laudable avoidance
of the Hong Kong nonsense and Olympic bullet-dodging that passes for action nowadays, but The Hunted
has its own brand of strained credibility.
During production, much was made of the absolute authenticity of the Kosovo battle sequence, the
knife fighting, and L.T. Bonham's tracking skills. The knife warfare is certainly brutal, and
refreshingly different than our present glut of wire-removal fantasy fighting. But the
scenes where L.T. shows off his tracking skills don't work because all we see is Tommy Lee Jones concentrating
on the grass, or twigs, and then going forward. Half the time, his prey isn't even avoiding him, so
where's the challenge? In what appears to be minutes, Hallam forges a handmade steel knife with primitive
tools and has time to whip up several more weapons, including a ridiculously elaborate trap with giant
logs hung from trees.
The lack of believable characters yanks the film away from the levels of reality Friedkin achieved in
his earlier crime films, that detailed counterfeiting and police procedures with authority. Hallam
remains a jumble of mad killer, military rebel, religious nut, and ecological fruitcake - in one
particularly pointless patch
dialogue, he bemoans the deaths of chickens.
There are too many familiar clichés. After he witnesses the
plight of a little girl in Kosovo, Hallam's inner conflict becomes the object of an Apocalypse
Now-type montage. Hero Bonham is in a constant state of mental anguish over his role
as a trainer of secret government armies, but his only response to the dilemma is to retreat to a
snow-covered Canadian wilderness where he can heal wounded timber wolves. We never get enough purchase on
either man, which hampers our ability to care about them.
Tommy Lee Jones escapes with his dignity, but Benicio Del Toro has looped his own voice with a non-Latino
accent that sounds odd and forced in almost every speech. If he gave a good performance, it was
lost in the dubbing. His awkward lectures to his girlfriend's child are an acting low. The breakneck pace
results in Connie Nielsen being given nothing but exposition and incidental small talk, and other FBI
heroes are barely in the picture. A fragment of a scene has Jones inviting Nielsen up to his cozy Canadian
cabin, but it's literally only one shot. There was once an original ending where she joins him in the snow,
but it was dropped in the editing stage.
Paramount's DVD of The Hunted is a fine presentation, with Caleb Deschanel's images rendered in
accurately muted colors, and a
soundtrack true to the original. William Friedkin added base to the dialog in the mix, resulting
in many lines being borderline unintelligible. But the music and effects are startling, especially in
the fight scenes.
The extras include 4 new mini docus on the film that give background to the tracking and knife-fighting
skills seen in the movie. There are some deleted scenes, but not the original ending. One of
the deleted scenes stresses on Hallam's religious background, supporting the film's abortive
'sacrifice of Abraham' theme. This cryptic use of a Bible story makes us wish that Samuel L. Jackson
were present to explain it all, as in the end of Pulp Fiction.
William Friedkin's commentary is a relaxed chat that avoids production stories. He discusses his
themes without getting too specific or offering any answers. There's also a theatrical trailer.
The director and his stars attracted an audience ready for anything in The Hunted, but without a story or
characters to believe in, all the precise action sequences
go for naught. The last 40 minutes of the film is a mostly dialogue-free chase that should generate some
serious tension, but I don't think anybody in the theaters cared. If you go for crisp action direction
for its own sake, or are looking for some really wild knife fighting, The Hunted may be for you.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Hunted rates:
Movie: Fair +, Good as a straight action narrative
Supplements: Commentary, 4 new short documentaries, deleted scenes, trailer.
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: August 14, 2003
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson