The Hunted Review
William Friedkin's new thriller, The Hunted is another low point in a directing career that peaked early on with The French Connection and The Exorcist and has since produced mostly disappointments. While Friedkin is still a skilful film-maker with the ability to pull off terrific set-pieces like the car chase in Jade and the embassy siege in Rules Of Engagement, he rarely finds material that's worthy of him. You can see what might have interested him in The Hunted, which aims to be a more thoughtful kind of action movie, the sort Sam Peckinpah or Walter Hill might have made. The story has potential but its better ideas are poorly developed and there's only so much even a great director can do with a rotten script. The final result is a miserably pedestrian effort that's elevated above straight-to-video status only by its A-list cast and crew.
Tommy Lee Jones stars as L.T. Bonham, a tough outdoorsman who once worked for the US army, training their special forces in close-quarters fighting and killing techniques. Never having killed a man himself and feeling more and more uncomfortable with the knowledge that he was preparing men to do just that, Bonham quit but years later he's asked to track down and capture one of his former students. His prey, Aaron Hallam (Benicio Del Toro), was a superb soldier but the horrors he's witnessed in hellholes like Kosovo have unhinged him and he's taken to murdering civilians in the forests of Oregon. Bonham joins the FBI team investigating the murders and soon has Hallam in custody but matters are complicated when Pentagon officials show up to take the prisoner away and Hallam claims that the men he's killed were government agents hunting him.
There's no avoiding the similarities to The Fugitive, in which Jones was assigned to track another potentially innocent man, or to First Blood, with its mistreated veteran pursued through the woods by the authorities and his former commander. Whereas those films had strong stories and well-defined characters, The Hunted teases the audience with the possibility that it may be going somewhere dramatically and then dumps its plot in favour of chases and fights. The relationships between Bonham and the lead FBI agent (Connie Nielsen) and between Hallam and his ex-girlfriend (Leslie Stefanson) are dropped and the Pentagon subplot is also abandoned - we never find out for sure whether Hallam was paranoid or had been really targetted for assassination, although this might help explain why Bonham is brought in even before the investigators know who the killer is. But then why would the military want to involve a civilian in a shady cover-up? The central relationship between the two men is also left sketchy. We're supposed to see them as father and son - the film opens with a Johnny Cash song about God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac - but the stars don't share enough scenes and we don't learn enough about their history together to make this appear more than pretentious symbolism.
Benicio Del Toro gives The Hunted the little spark it has, managing to make Hallam scary and sympathetic at the same time, but his character is not well enough defined. The script never commits to whether he's a misunderstood victim or a cold-blooded murderer. Still, he's interesting to watch while Tommy Lee Jones has never been so dull, playing Bonham as relentlessly glum and monosyllabic. Perhaps that's how the character was written or perhaps Jones was trying to distinguish him from the more flamboyant Samuel Gerard in The Fugitive but Bonham is morose to the point where he's tedious to watch. With no dramatic interest, that leaves the action scenes, which are numerous and fill up the entire last half hour. Unfortunately, while Friedkin's direction is as visceral as ever and it's refreshing to see an action film in 2003 with no CGI, the car chases, foot chases, train chases, fist fights and knife fights offer little we haven't seen before and our lack of involvement with the characters prevents any suspense from building.