DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
HUNTED, THE (director: William Friedkin; screenwriters: David Griffiths/Peter Griffiths/Art Monterastellii; cinematographer: Caleb Deschanel; editor: Augie Hess; music: Brian Tyler/Johnny Cash; cast: Tommy Lee Jones (L.T. Bonham), Benicio Del Toro (Aaron Hallam), Connie Nielsen (FBI agent, Abby Durrell),  John Finn (Ted), Jenna Boyd (Loretta Kravitz), Leslie Stefanson (Irene Kravitz), Ron Canada (Harry Van Zandt), José Zúñiga (Bobby Moret); Runtime: 94; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Ricardo Mestres/James Jacks; Paramount Pictures; 2003)

 
"What the The Hunt forgot to hunt down was a decent script."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Noted veteran action-film director William Friedkin ("The French Connection"/"The Exorcist"/"To Live and Die in L.A.") has fallen off Hollywood's illustrious mountain top with this drab thriller, supposedly about exploring man's inner conflict over his own evils. One man is plagued by bad dreams of the war atrocities he witnessed, while the other is plagued by lingering memories of teaching others how to kill. But The Hunt goes nowhere with this often used lofty premise for action-films, of man getting back to his primal instinctual level to find himself, as it suffers from an inadequate script, a meaningless story, a loss of purpose and trite dialogue. It tries to spit out but never gets to quite say with proper meaning in this generic action-story the following biblical quote -- what you sow is what you reap. After all the bloody scenes and fuzzy moral points are half-heartedly made, it is difficult to tell on what side of the fence this film is on. The only thing we know for sure, is that this is a chase film and not a thought-provoking one.

The Hunt is about someone the army trained to be a killing machine, the decorated special-ops sergeant Aaron Hallam (Benicio Del Toro), who after winning a Silver Star in the Kosovo War in 1999 while on a secret mission against the Serbian atrocities of Albanian civilians, has since gone crazy and killed four civilian hunters in the woods of Oregon in 2003. The viewer sees him butcher with his knife two well-armed with high-powered rifles deer hunters to death after chiding them for being so heavily armed to hunt deer. It sounds as if he's an animal rights activist, but there's no follow-up. His instructor, L.T. Bonham (Tommy Lee Jones), was a civilian contracted by the U.S, Army Special Forces to teach survival and killing skills to its elite soldiers, and who has since retired and works as a tracker for a wildlife organization in the secluded wooded area of British Columbia. The FBI agent Ted Chenoweth (John Finn), an old buddy from their army days, comes to Bonham's secluded cabin and asks him to help capture, at this point, the unknown knife-wielding killer hiding in the woods of Silver Falls, Oregon.

The film tells about a veteran soldier gone amok (Nice timing for a film that opens just as the Iraq War might begin! I'm sure that's a comforting notion for those already ambivalent about any military operation). It then lays open the question if soldiers trained as killing machines can after the war safely fit into society, but Friedkin never gets around to fully dealing with that question. Instead he turns the film into a bloody knife fighting and hand-to-hand combat action film, and mostly makes it into a chase film. It's imitative of films such as Rambo and The Fugitive. The overweight Jones keeps finding his fugitive without ever using a gun--something he refuses to carry as a badge of honor. But the younger man, who is AWOL, is trained so well he keeps getting out of tight spots when he's cornered. He's so good at escaping because he can melt into his environment and not be spotted, as only Bonham seems to be of the same mind to track him down anywhere by sniffing him out like a dog. Hallam escapes from the following places: the woods in the Oregon Cascade mountains after a hand-to-hand combat fight where he uses his killing weapon--a serrated blade on one side of his knife and a "filet" blade on the other, a room in his former girlfriend's house by jumping out the window, from an army transport truck where he's handcuffed, a car chase where he gets blocked in a traffic jam on the back streets of Portland, and finally he will jump off Portland's Interstate Bridge to the waters of the Williamette River below. Water is a heavily used symbol throughout, as there are many shots of a water falls and of the fountains in Portland. Another symbol is a snare used to trap a wolf, as Bonham frees the animal and bangs the head on the table of the human who set the trap as he applies immediate justice for his cause.

Warning: spoiler in the paragraph.

The heavy-handed symbolism is reinforced by Hallam reading the verse from the Bible of the Old Testament, where God asks Abraham to kill his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice to him. In case you haven't figured out by then how the film was to end, in the Portland FBI office Bonham asks the attractive super-model looking lead FBI agent on this case, Abby Durrell (Connie Nielsen, a former model), if she ever killed anyone in the line of duty. She then asks him and he says no, that he teaches others to kill but has never killed anyone himself. Well, you can just about bet your gas mask that this will change before the last reel. And, since the ending is telegraphed from these opening scenes and there is no suspense about the outcome of the chase, I expected therefore to see a pic that would go for mind over action. I expected a more probing film about the insanity of the country's war mentality or something like that. But, I was wrong. Instead, Friedkin, went with the nice and easy familiar chase scenes and showing how great a warrior the army created but who is now out-of-control. The film would have been better served if it were a documentary.

It also gave legitimacy in a backhanded way to the army's secretive missions that involve assassinations. It intentionally or unintentionally points out that if once in a while a mistake occurs and a trained assassin goes psycho, not to worry the government can take care of its own problems and the public doesn't have to know about it. A great message for a democracy to hear!

The Hunt started filming in March 2001 but with a week of shooting to go, during the fight choreography between Jones and Del Toro, a freak accident occurred. After Del Toro got caught in a small plant and had his hand bent underneath him for a split second before he fell, Jones fell on top of his co-star's hand as they were each diving for a knife. As a result Del Toro broke a wrist bone and this caused a seven-month shutdown while he healed. It should also be noted that originally Connie Nielson was to have the co-starring role with Jones, but her FBI agent role was considerably reduced so that Del Toro's bad guy on-the-run role could be expanded and the hot commodity after Traffic could be talked into taking the part.

What The Hunt forgot to hunt down was a decent script. This movie was not only pointless, but it was depressing.

Johnny Cash rewrote the opening lyrics of Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited and sings that over the opening credits and sings another downbeat original song over the closing credits.

REVIEWED ON 3/24/2003     GRADE: C -

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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