Fast-paced thriller, ‘Hunted’ takes audiences hostage

Ted Pigeon

Director William Friedkin knows a good chase scene, and more importantly he knows exactly how to construct one. His gritty, Oscar-winning film from 1971, “The French Connection,” offers, among other things, one of the most thrilling chase sequences in cinema history. It has set the gold standard for what chase scenes should be: fast-paced, suspenseful and vigorous. Friedkin’s latest project, “The Hunted,” starring Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio Del Toro, is a suspenseful, albeit shallow, chase thriller which showcases the director’s ability to deliver dynamic action sequences.

The film opens in Kosovo during the 1999 crisis, where a team of highly skilled American operatives maneuver their way through the turmoil that has engulfed the region. Among them is a young man named Aaron Hallam (Del Toro), who works his way through the rubble into a building where he finds one of the men in charge of the enemy forces. Hallam waits patiently and methodically, studying the man’s actions and waiting for the right moment to attack; eventually, he acts exactly the way a hunter towards his prey. Hallam is then awarded the silver medal for his actions upon returning to America.

Years later, Hallam employs the very same military tactics in a forest in Oregon and slaughters two men who were hunting defenseless animals. When the FBI discovers this, it enlists the help of L.T. Bonham (Jones), a retired, seemingly tranquil man who lives in Canada. It seeks Bonham’s help because it was Bonham who trained Hallam to be the killing machine that he has become.

When the film has set up all of the elements, the chase between Bonham and Hallam begins and greatly intensifies as the film continues. Many of these scenes are very well done and full of tension, and the game that the two main characters play is almost out of respect more than anything else.

There are several fight sequences that are especially noteworthy because they consist of very precise hand-to-hand combat. in which the only weapons involved are knives. Many of these sequences are very bloody, but what made them genuine is that everything occurring on-screen is real.

It seems that many fighting and action scenes in movies today go way over the top with computer technology, and the intensity is lost somewhere in the mix, which is why those particular scenes in this film feel more genuine. That aspect of realism isn’t limited exclusively to the action scenes, but it is part of the atmosphere that the entire film creates. The film looks and feels real, from the green leaves of the forest to the crowded streets of downtown Portland, due to the well-scouted locations for shooting as well as Caleb Deschanel’s photography.

Although this isn’t the type of film from which you’d expect to have great performances, both actors find the right note in their portrayals of the characters. Throughout the film we see two sides of Hallam constantly contrasting with one another: one is a very peaceful, almost gentle person that respects all life, while the other is the ruthless assassin he was trained to be.

Del Toro accommodates for both of those aspects by giving a performance that is rightfully over-the-top, yet also grounded in reality. Jones also delivers a stellar performance as Bonham, who appears to want to forget the side of him that trained men to be killers. His respect for Hallam also begins to surface as his feud with Hallam inevitably comes to an end and the film achieves an operatic climax.

The psychological aspect of the plot could have been better developed, making the story less ordinary and more complex. The film seems to want to dig deeper than it does and at times scratches the surface of an element before abandoning it for another chase scene.

Nevertheless, the story holds up despite its borderline cliché nature. “The Hunted” proves itself as a well-made, action-packed film that has enough gripping chase sequences to elevate it beyond your everyday action movie.