Dir: William Friedkin. US. 2003. 94mins
When a government orders a man to kill, it is considered acceptable. When that same man, tormented by the violence he has perpetrated loses his grip and starts killing on his own, who is to blame' That is the question that should be central to The Hunted, the new action-thriller from William Friedkin. But Friedkin has something different in mind - and the result is not half as engrossing. The appeal of stars Jones and Del Toro, the beauty of America's Pacific Northwest and the skill of Friedkin in staging action sequences has drawn the same crowd that turned out to see Bruce Willis in Tears Of The Sun the previous weekend, albeit in smaller numbers: The Hunted took $13.5m from 2,516 sites in its opening weekend for a healthy average of $5,366. As with Tears, however, anti-American sentiment overseas could prove a mitigating factor, especially given The Hunted's advertising tag line - 'Some men must be found' - which is so crass that it probably came directly from the Bush White House.
Aaron Hallam (Del Toro), a Special Forces assassin for the US government, suffers debilitating flashbacks in the wake of his tour in Kosovo. One day, several years later, this highly decorated killing machine goes AWOL, slips into the dense, nearly impenetrable forests of Oregon and sets his well-honed sights on hunters using rifles with high-powered military telescopes - weapons not normally associated with stalking deer.
Unable to catch Hallam, the FBI turns to LT Bonham (Jones) who, prior to his position with a wildlife conservation organisation (he is first seen tending to an injured wolf), was an FBI instructor who taught Special Forces recruits how to track and kill other people. Hallam was his best student and it is Bonham's guilt over his part in the renegade's crimes (the lone wolf he failed) that propels him to go after his former pupil.
The surrogate father-son relationship between the two men is too loosely established to play the important role it should in the story. Without it, the film lacks a much-needed emotional depth and poignancy. A second father-son connection, this time between God and Bonham, is even more unconvincingly advanced, through the words of a Bob Dylan song that will leave audiences scratching their heads until the end of the film.
Jones and Del Toro, both fine actors, are hamstrung by roles which place more emphasis on the chase than on the characters' emotional complexity. Certainly the chase is exciting.
While The Hunted is nowhere near his best work, Friedkin still knows how to stage action sequences. The picture opens with the horrifyingly hypnotic bombing of Kosovo. It is a pyromaniac's dream: great cumulous clouds of fire exploding one after another, engulfing an entire neighbourhood as blood-thirsty Serbs go on a rampage, massacring ethnic Albanians.
Perhaps most surprising is that the film lacks an all-important sense of irony at the situation it presents: a monster, created by the government, now must be neutralised by the very entity which produced it. It is unclear why a man as intelligent as Friedkin would leave that stone unturned.
Prod cos: Lakeshore Entertainment, Ricardo Mestres/Alphaville Production
US dist: Paramount Pictures
Int'l dist: UIP
Exec prod: David Griffiths, Peter Griffiths, Marcus Viscidi, Sean Daniel
Prods: Ricardo Mestres, James Jacks
Scr: David Griffiths, Peter Griffiths, Art Monterastelli
Cinematography: Caleb Deschanel
Prod des: William Cruse
Ed: Augie Hess
Music: Brian Tyler
Main cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Benicio Del Toro, Connie Nielsen