2003, Paramount. Directed by William Friedkin. Tommy Lee Jones, Benicio Del Toro, Connie Nielsen.
Decent Films Ratings
Content advisory: Bloody knife fights, intense chase sequences, occasional crude words, a crude gesture, a graphic military combat sequence, brief images of severed body parts.
Note: This review was written by a guest critic.
By Jimmy Akin
The Hunted is the story of two
superheroes. Not the Superman /
Like Batman, our two superheroes are grim, silent manhunters. Also like Batman, both have a personal code against using guns. Unlike Batman, neither wears a mask. And most unlike Batman, neither has a personal code against killing.
That’s part of the problem.
Superhero #1 is named Aaron Hallam (Benicio Del Toro). We meet him in 1999 in war-torn Kosovo. At this point in his life, he is a ultra-skilled special ops guy trying to take down a brutal Serbian military commander. The action is intense, and though Aaron succeeds in his mission, he is soon suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Superhero #2 is named L. T. Bonham (Tommy Lee Jones). We meet him in snow-bound British Columbia. At this point in his life he is an ultra-skilled tracker who works for "the Wildlife Fund" letting wolves out of snares and physically brutalizing the trappers who laid the snares. He tells them "No more using snares on wolves!" (Apparently these were special wolf snares that no other critter would step into. Also it was apparently unjust to set the snares. Presumably the wolves had been keeping peacefully to themselves and not harming livestock or anything.)
We soon learn that Superhero #1 did not remain a special ops guy. By 2003, he has become unhinged and is now hiding out in the Oregon forest near Portland. Encountering two deer hunters (who are actually hunting elk, though the filmmakers don’t seem to know this), he taunts them from the shadows, asking why they don’t kill with their hands and explaining that "there’s no reverence" in hunting game with rifles. Continuing to taunt them, he challenges them to/threatens them with combat: Their rifles vs. his knife.
The knife wins.
We soon learn that Superhero #2 wasn’t always a tracker with a special interest in beating up trappers. He used to train special ops guys in advanced hand-to-hand combat and survival skills. In fact, he trained Superhero #1, and now he’s The Only Guy Who Can Take Him Down.
So renowned are Superhero #2’s abilities as a tracker that nobody challenges him when he orders a gaggle of FBI agents and Oregon police offers out of the woods so that he can track down Superhero #1 in peace. They all know that he is the right man for this job and must not be questioned.
Now we get to see what we all came to see: The Hunt.
Tommy Lee Jones is indeed a wicked cool tracker, and the filmmakers try to let us in on the tiny clues he sees as he tracks down Benicio Del Toro. They don’t always succeed. Sometimes Jones’s superhuman skills outstrip the filmmakers’ ability to show us exactly what he is picking up on, but often we get brief images of clues whose significance we realize half a second later.
In almost no time, Jones has found his prey and the two are locked in hand-to-hand combat. But before you know it the police arrive waving their guns and take Del Toro into custody. The Hunt is over almost before it started.
Fortunately, just as the audience is reconciling itself to spending the next hour watching wolves get let out of snares, The Hunt starts again. Through an act of sheer stupidity on the part of those who have him in custody, Del Toro escapes, and Jones is back in action — this time on the streets of Portland.
The film also intimates that there is something much larger and deeper going on than the simple takedown of a deranged psychopath. Nameless government men say that during his special ops career Del Toro violated his orders and killed innocents. Del Toro replies that they weren’t innocents and that he was set up.
It also becomes clear that Del Toro was starting to have psychological problems even when Tommy Lee Jones was training him. He wrote letters to Jones asking for help, but Jones never acknowledged them.
None of this really matters, though, because what is important is what we came to see: The Hunt. And an entertaining hunt it is. Whether in houses, on city streets, or in the moss-draped woods outside the city, we get the wild ride we came for. The tension is palpable, the action swift and silent, and the audience gets lost in the events unfolding before it on the screen.
There are missteps on the part of the filmmakers.
Though law enforcement and Jones are hot on his trail, we see Del Toro build a fire hot enough to forge himself a new knife out of a piece of iron. Simultaneously, rather than getting a tactical knife from the Portland police department, Jones takes the time to chip himself a flint knife.
Jones’s knife-chipping efforts apparently take so long that they apparently give Del Toro the time (off screen) to set a number of traps including a snare (oh, irony!) and a couple of giant, spiked logs that slam into each other, forcing Tommy Lee Jones to duck.
These are but mere distractions, however, as we are dealing with a conflict between superheroes.
Ultimately, the conflict plays itself out, and there is plenty of what the audience came to see: tense, pulse-pounding, action-hero manhunting.
That’s also about all there is.
The larger, deeper things that the film alluded to? Well, we never get clear answers about them. We don’t ever learn if Del Toro was set up or if he was just a psychopath (though it seems the latter seems more likely). We also don’t get a clear answer about whether Tommy Lee Jones ever got Del Toro’s letters asking for help. The film tries to answer this question, but doesn’t.
Still, that wasn’t what we came to see.
Oh yeah, and the film tries to link itself somehow to the Bible. There’s a creepy opening narration by the (recently) late Johnny Cash that tries to link the film to the biblical story of the sacrifice of Isaac, and as the closing credits roll we hear Cash’s ominous song "The Man Comes Around," which has more biblical allusions in it than you can shake a stick at. Few of them have anything to do with the movie.
But then, that wasn’t what we came to hear.