In The Hunted, Benicio Del Toro plays Aaron Hallum, a top-secret assassin working for the U.S Army. After witnessing a horrific mass murder while on assignment in Kosovo, Hallum, suffering severe battle stress, loses his mind, and vanishes. Several months later, Hallum’s instructor, L.T Bonham (Tommy Lee Jones), a civilian tracker employed by the Army to teach soldiers how to kill with a knife, is recruited by the F.B.I to assist in catching Hallum, who has ritualistically slain several hunters in the forests of Oregon.
While the storyline is pretty straightforward and simple, director William Friedkin infuses the film with same kind of energy he used in some of his early classics such as The French Connection, and The Exorcist. Once one of Hollywood’s top directors, Friedkin drifted into obscurity for several years after directing such flops as Cruising, and Jade. After working in television for several years, Friedkin’s career took off again in 2000, when his film Rules of Engagement was released alongside a supped up version of The Exorcist, which seemed to remind studio brass that Friedkin could still deliver a good film.
The Hunted marks Friedkin’s triumphant return to the realm of action movies. Anyone familiar with the famous car chase in The French Connection will no doubt be salivating at this prospect. Friedkin directs the numerous chase sequences with aplomb, and the numerous knife fights are brilliantly choreographed and edited. The fights are done quick and dirty, and have little in common with the wire work driven, MTV-ish fight scenes which tend to pop up in most current “action” films.
The casting of the film is also quite good, with Benicio Del Toro turning in another excellent performance, never reducing his character to some simple, maniacal, two dimensional villain. He brings a level of humanity to the role, always making his character somewhat likable, even when at his worst.
Tommy Lee Jones once again plays a man desperately trying to track down a fugitive, a role he has played numerous times, in films like The Fugitive, U.S Marshals, and Double Jeopardy. While playing to type, it should be noted that Jones does manage to bring a certain edge to the character that has been lacking in his last few films. My only gripe with the film is that it is never really explained why a character as supposedly peaceful and gentle as Jones’s character, would ever want to teach people how to kill.
Brutally shot, and unsettlingly gory, the film is a throwback to the action films of the seventies. Make no mistake however; this film is particularly brutal, especially in the early scenes, which depict the “ethnic cleansing” in Kosovo, which is graphically portrayed, and very unsettling. Also, it should be noted that this is not some simple Rambo-esque action movie, as the film does try and make a point about how people are trained by the army to be soulless, unmerciful killers.
While basically one long ninety-minute chase sequence, The Hunted is nonetheless a great action movie, and enthusiastically recommended to those with strong stomachs.