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The Hunted

The Hunted
Paramount Home Entertainment
2003 / color / 1:85 anamorphic 16:9 / 94 min. / Street Date August 12, 2003 / 29.99
Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Benicio Del Toro, Connie Nielsen, Leslie Stefanson, John Finn, Ron Canada
Cinematography Caleb Deschanel
Production Designer William Cruse
Art Direction Beatriz Kerti
Film Editor Augie Hess
Original Music Johnny Cash, Brian Tyler
Written by David Griffiths & Peter Griffith and Art Monterastelli
Produced by Sean Daniel, David Griffiths, Peter Griffiths, James Jacks, Ricardo Mestres, Art Monterastelli, Marcus Viscidi
Directed by William Friedkin

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 and cops. The French Connection opened eyes and minds 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
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Commentary, 4 new short documentaries, deleted scenes, trailer.
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: August 14, 2003

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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