2003, R, 94 min. Directed by William Friedkin. Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Benicio Del Toro, Connie Nielsen, Jenna Boyd, Leslie Stefanson.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., March 21, 2003
Possibly the least cost-effective game of hide-and-seek ever devised, The Hunted is also great fun for those of us who miss playing in the mud during the days of our youth, especially those who had a fistful of G.I. Joes and a couple of cherry bombs to add to the thrills. Apart from recalling halcyon boyhoods, however, Friedkin’s film is a wash (and, frankly, could stand with one), one long, gritty, grimy, stanktastic chase sequence through the perpetual gloom of the Pacific Northwest with occasional excursions to the killing grounds of Kosovo (courtesy of flashbacks) and a detour to British Columbia to assist a snared wolf. The latter comes courtesy of Tommy Lee Jones, who plays L.T. Bonham, a crotchety, grizzled tracker who formerly taught Army Special Ops soldiers how to survive and make other people not survive. He is, we are told in no uncertain terms, the best of the best, and with his thousand-yard stare now fixed firmly in the direction of the Common Good, he’s like a Grizzly Adams for the smart-bomb age. Which, like the rest of this film, is pretty silly, although not quite as silly as Benicio Del Toro’s military assassin Aaron Hallam, who becomes Bonham’s reluctant quarry after his combat stress gets the better of him and he begins filleting hunters with the sort of folksy gusto usually limited to Ted Nugent. Hallam is portrayed as a super soldier whose missions were so top-secret that he’s officially listed as MIA – even his estranged wife and little girl don’t know where he’s been for the past six years, and so when he shows up on their doorstep and proceeds to teach the little girl the nuances of tracking squirrels in the family’s front yard it’s meant to be a touching scene of emotional rekindling. It’s not. Del Toro, an actor who knows his way around a fluky accent (listen to The Usual Suspects’ Fenster, or Snatch’s Franky Four Fingers), reaches deep inside himself and comes out sounding like Norman Bates with a mouthful of marbles, and although that may sound interesting, it’s not a good choice for the vocal range of a mad-dog killer. (Think how cool it would have been if he’d found Phil Silvers in there!) Del Toro’s face, one of the best in movies today, is expressive in ways other actors can’t seem to manage, full of a doughy softness around the eyes and overripe lips, and while that certainly works for many of his other roles, it just feels wrong for Hallam, a man who’s supposedly been on the run for a while. Barrel-chested and bear-like, Del Toro’s casting in the part makes no sense – unlike Sylvster Stallone’s Rambo (an obvious precursor to The Hunted), Del Toro’s bulky physicality impedes the role. If he was in the army you’d more likely find him on KP instead of scuttling face first down walls like some awful combative arachnid. Friedkin mined a similar vein of machismo in 1977’s Sorcerer, a filthy, sodden remake of Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear. In that picture, Roy Scheider (such a man’s man he bested Bruce the shark) looked like he really could kick your scrawny butt from here to next week with barely a flick of his knotty wrists. In The Hunted Jones just looks ready to keel over, and Del Toro as though he might need to take a breather.