Directed by William Friedkin. USA. 2003.

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My boyfriend, Scooter, is perfect at a level that suggests alien possession. He’s sensitive, thoughtful, and funny. He’s driven, and he’s smart. (Not to mention spiffy AND adorable.)  He makes me deliriously happy. There’s only one problem.

I cannot find an exciting enough movie to keep the boy awake. Granted, Scooter works insane hours, and usually finds himself in a state of exhaustion on his moments off, tired to the point where I could have poured ice cubes down his shirt, and I have doubts as to whether or not he would have noticed.  When he stays alert though, his movie geek commentary rivals mine for sarcasm. Sadly, his critiques of The Matrix, and Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers have both been the same:

ME: (during moments of tense onscreen commotion) “Isn’t this GREAT?!”
SCOOTER: “zzzzzzzzzzzzz”

In the quest to find a flick that might allow a high enough interest level for Scooter and I to be able to discuss the ending, I took home The Hunted.  I was looking forward to seeing it.  This movie had a lot going for it; pre: viewing.  Tommy Lee Jones for example, was the star. That man’s a wonder of sarcastic humour.  I can tolerate Benecio Del Toro.  And, it was helmed by William Friedkin, an incredible action director. Scanning the DVD cover I thought that there was no way that Scooter could fall asleep before this flick ended. 

After watching it, I can’t imagine him remaining conscious through the opening credits. Even my mind, which has stayed alert through such cosmic snoozers as Crossroads, and Windtalkers, was drifting away after the first 15 minutes. As Tommy Lee Jones spent his umpteenth moment looking stricken, my thoughts were centered less on the man’s performance, and more to important things like how I needed to dust, counting the fruit juice speckles on my sofa, and on whether or not Robin Williams will be making a funny movie any time soon. The Hunted is a total misfire. 

The Hunted centres on Aaron Hallman, an elite soldier who snaps from battle fatigue, and starts roaming around the countryside, killing people seemingly at random. In an effort to catch him, the FBI brings in the soldier who trained the “fugitive” (hehehehehe “Fugitive” hehehehe) to catch him.  (Editor’s Note: pay no attention to the movie geekism.)

The Hunted. All Rights Reserved.Benecio Del Toro (Traffic, Excess Baggage) plays the most implausible killing machine in recent film memory, Aaron Hallman.  This was a character that could have been utterly fascinating. Battle fatigue is a subject that hasn’t been consistently covered well since M*A*S*H went off the air, and it’s a running theme in Hallman. There was a lot of scope for Del Toro to demonstrate his more then average dramatic abilities, with script possibilities of flashbacks, terror and psychosis. An actor of this caliber, given the chance, could have easily made the homicidal soldier not only terrifying, but sympathetic, with moments of being overwhelmed in combat. Unfortunately, Del Toro is never given the chance to show what he can do. Del Toro has shown the capacity to personify multifaceted roles, and lend depth and ease to the most gruesome personalities. I was surprised by the lack of finesse he’s shown here.  The first time Del Toro’s Hallman appears onscreen, is in the midst of an incomprehensible firefight which is so gruesome that I watched most of it from behind my hands. Here again, is an example of my pet peeve with war films; make the battles too high on the goo, and I tend to tune out the characters onscreen.  I found it hard to worry about Del Toro’s character while hiding my eyes, and asking if the scene was over yet. 

When we moved forward into an assassination scene things got a tad absurd. Hallman is supposedly an “elite killer” which would suggest a measure of subtlety and grace. Del Toro comes up on his intended victim at such a volume that the only reason I can assume he was successful is that his victim was either:

stone deaf just realizing that his loafers were glued to the floor

or narcoleptic

When Hallman was first captured I was expected a bit of character development; perhaps in the form of a more in depth showing of the battle which warped him, some flashback moments of his training, even some moments of the battle stress first showing itself when amongst his family and friends. I was sadly disappointed. Throughout his interrogation, nothing that came out of Hallman’s mouth made sense, and by that point in the film, I was no longer interested enough to try and stay with him.  That apathy was a trend that continued throughout. In the second and third act of “The Hunted” more of Hallman’s personality and problems presented themselves, in the form of a jilted love interest, feeling abandoned by a father figure, being chased by government operatives, conspiracies showing up, etc. Ultimately though, without a chance to form any kind of attachment to Hallman in the first part of the movie, I ended up not caring, rooting for Tommy Lee Jones’ character to catch up with Hallman, not so much to apprehend a dangerous man, but more to end the movie. 

And speaking of Mr. Jones….

Tommy Lee Jones (Space Cowboys, The Park is Mine) is one of my favorite actors. I think the world of his dramatic (Cobb) and comedic (M.I.B) abilities. And until I saw The Hunted, I would not have been able to name a movie of his that I didn’t like.

Tommy Lee Jones plays L.T. Bonham, a military officer who spent his army career training officers to kill. Presumably, at some point, he became ill with the whole idea, and (why not?) ran off to the wilderness to wander about aimlessly and free snared animals from traps. 

Again, here is a potentially fascinating character that never really gets going.  Bonham’s character is never truly explored except through the poor development of Hallman, and therefore, I never had a chance to become attached to his character either. There are few and far between moments of watching some skillful tracking, and some well-choreographed knife fights, but action sequences are not where Jones’ strength lies. Jones’ is a smart, witty, charismatic actor capable of upping the tension is any scene he appears in with a brisk chase, a fierce look, or a scary cross-examination. Like Del Toro, he’s never given a chance to show off, with his jaded officer role, dwindled down into a desperate pursuer, who gets to do little more then look haggard and upset. I would have liked to have seen more of the history on Hallman and Bonham’s relationship. Did Bonham encourage his young trainee? Was Hallman a talent? Did he start to lose his few remaining marbles in training? Much is made in “The Hunted” of Bonham’s refusal to answer Hallman’s many post-battle letters, and yet the audience is never told WHY it is that Bonham didn’t write back. Was Bonham scared of Hallman? Poor penmanship and worried that Hallman would laugh? Who knows? 

I also found it odd that no comment was made on Bonham’s battle stress’, as I found it an obvious common bond that the two men shared. Both were running away from the scars and violence that had been pushed upon them, and making that point more heavily would have been an excellent way to establish why Bonham and Hallman meant so much to each other. As the final story stood though, I’m still unsure as to why Bonham jumped in to help find his former student.

Jones is the most credible operative in The Hunted.  In his opening moments of tracking, to his leadership and power I could see the man as being in charge. Jones’ emotional moments play as the most genuine in the film, but as with Sean Bean in Don’t Say a Word he’s being made to carry the whole film on his shoulders. It’s hard to make any forward motion at all with a 500 pound turkey on your back, no matter how wonderful an actor you are.

The Hunted. All Rights Reserved.The Hunted’s main problem is a lack of decision making skills. Right from the outset it becomes clear that Friedkin wasn’t quite sure of the sort of movie he wanted to make. Was it to be a war film? For the first 15 minutes at least. But then….wait….it’s a murder mystery movie!! Yes, a murder mystery movie. Hunters getting killed, that must be a murder mystery movie. Wait….no…’s a conspiracy flick. Federal agents, wanting to get rid of Hallman to keep him quiet. Wait…’s a CHASE movie. I see….. It’s difficult to get into the right frame of mind to enjoy what you’re watching, if you’re never quite sure what genre you’re going to fall into at the next scene change. Horror? Silent film? Slapstick? I was never too sure.  Had some hard choices been made, this film would have been a lot tighter. Purely a chase movie between student and teacher? Pare down the roles of the female FBI agent, and Hallman’s love interest. A comment on what battle stress does to a person? Expand the roles of Hallman and Bonham, and show the stresses of a covert military occupation on their day to day lives. Del Toro and Jones have some fabulous chemistry together, but are not given enough shared screen time to make that tension translate to the audience.  With the two dynamos that Friedkin had for male leads, this flick should have been a firecracker. It’s a fizzle. 

Ultimately, I was very disappointed by The Hunted, and don’t recommend it, or plan on showing it to my Scooter. (Except perhaps as a sleep inducement, as in “Scooter baby, you need to relax, and do I have the PERFECT movie for that.”)  Tommy Lee Jones fans like myself would be better served renting Space Cowboys again, and leaving this one, un-hunted, on the store shelf. 

Jen Johnston
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