Director William Friedkin’s “The Hunted” is one of those movies that would benefit greatly from a longer running length, instead of having been chopped to hell and back until all that’s left resembles one big chase movie. Then again, even as a butchered chase movie, “The Hunted” is still an exhilarating, well-made, and generally entertaining action film.
Benicio Del Toro (“Way of the Gun”) stars as Aaron Hallam, a former Army Special Forces assassin who is so traumatized by his experiences in the field that he can no longer turn off his “killer instinct”. Now back in civilian life, Hallam has “gone off the reservation”, and is using hunters for sport. Tommy Lee Jones (“Men in Black 2”) is L.T. Bonham, the civilian who trained Hallam. Now retired, Bonham is asked by the F.B.I. to help track Hallam, which he does out of a combination of guilt and a sense of duty. I think. (This is what happens when you cut everything except the action; character motivations become muddled.)
Connie Nielsen (“Gladiator”) co-stars as Abby Durrell, a competent F.B.I. agent who teams up with Bonham to go after Hallam. Well actually “teaming up” is a bit misleading, because the 90-minute movie (with 5 minutes of end credits) almost immediately has Bonham track down and capture Hallam. The real thrust of the film is Hallam escaping from custody and seeking to escape the city of Portland, with an army of federal agents and local cops on his tail.
As previously mentioned, “The Hunted” is really one big chase movie that has little time for anything else. Things such as characterization, or even something as simple as character background, fall by the wayside. We know about Bonham and Hallam (well, not really, but we know enough to service their hunt-and-hunted roles), but we know absolutely nothing about Abby. She’s an interesting character; very good as an agent, and amazingly devoid of all the stupid F.B.I. personality traits that many action movies like to attribute to the G-Men.
The best parts of “The Hunted” are the two combat sequences between Bonham and Hallam. The first occurs after Bonham has tracked down Hallam, and the second ends the movie. The two men are supposed to be killing machines, nearly perfect in every way when it comes to taking a human life, and it shows. Even Tommy Lee Jones, who looks twice as old as Del Toro and looks deceivingly outmatched by the physically fit Del Toro, holds his own. When the two men battle, they battle. There is little wasted motion, no “stylish” poses. They attack and try to literally gut each other before they themselves can be gutted. It’s two of the most exciting combat sequences I’ve seen, ever.
As a film, “The Hunted” falls a bit short. Again, the nearly nonexistent characterization is so prominent that it’s distracting. I kept wondering who these people were, but all I got was one long chase. Not that I’m complaining about the chase, because Friedkin orchestrates them with near perfect clarity, not to mention brimming with excitement. A long sequence, where Hallam flees Bonham in the middle of Downtown Portland, is the standout non-action sequence of the movie.
It is very obvious “The Hunted” was extensively edited in favor of the action. At just 85 minutes of actual movie, this is one film that definitely needed some down time. A little more personality to go with the inspired action and “The Hunted” would have been one terrific all-around movie. As it stands now, it’s just a good, albeit shallow, action movie — with potential to be so much more.
William Friedkin (director)
CAST: Tommy Lee Jones …. L.T. Bonham
Benicio Del Toro …. Aaron Hallam
Connie Nielsen …. Abby Durrell
Leslie Stefanson …. Irene Kravitz