Despite the star power in The Hunted, there’s no thrill in this chase
What happened to William Friedkin? Early in his career, he gained notoriety by directing acclaimed hits like The Boys in the Band, The French Connection and The Exorcist. But for the past several years, when he hasn’t been devoting himself to regretful TV projects like the Shannen Doherty cheerleader-meets-biker boy drama Jailbreakers or an unnecessary remake of 12 Angry Men, he’s turned out nothing but hack action films, including the David Caruso fiasco Jade and the histrionic Tommy Lee Jones/Samuel L. Jackson-driven The Rules of Engagement.
Friedkin does little to recapture his former glory with The Hunted, an exceedingly sloppy cat-and-mouse thriller that coasts along for ninety minutes or so on nothing more than cinematic clichés. Most notably, it borrows the “soldier who snaps” premise from First Blood, in the form of Aaron (Benicio Del Toro), a former Special Forces assassin increasingly burdened by the horrors he witnessed during a bloody battle in Kosovo, which are depicted in graphic detail as the film opens.
Friedkin also cribs from The Fugitive by casting Tommy Lee Jones as L.T. Bonham, the conflicted loner who, in his younger years, trained Aaron and countless others to be killing machines for the American armed forces. The Tommy Lee-in-relentless-pursuit gimmick worked to perfection in The Fugitive, but was already tired by the time it was put to use in U.S. Marshals. Now, it’s almost laughable; with Jones pushing 60, it’s hard to swallow his quick recovery from the severe bruisings he suffers here, which include a spear through the leg, a tumble over a waterfall, several deep cuts to the hand, slashes across the chest and stomach, a nasty slice in the face, and a deep stab through the upper arm.
Bonham is subjected to such punishment after being summoned from his self-imposed isolation in British Columbia by FBI agent Abby Durrell (Connie Nielsen). Aaron has gone off the deep end and slaughtered two hunters for preying on defenseless deer, and, of course, only Bonham possesses the superhuman tracking skills necessary to find him. Sure enough, even though dozens of FBI agents have been scouring the lush Portland woods in which the murders took place, after only minutes on the scene, Bonham observes enough bent blades of grass and scratched tree bark to find Aaron’s secret lair, then Aaron himself.
And so begins a highly repetitive chase, with Aaron being captured, then escaping, then captured, then escaping, then, well, you get the idea. Bonham’s incredible powers take on Daredevil-ish proportions as he tracks Aaron through the busy streets of downtown Portland; sniffing the air and checking the wind, he follows Aaron through sewers, crowded sidewalks, a city park and the mass transit system. Somehow, the two make it back to the woods, where they both take a few moments to forge knives for themselves(!!) in preparation for an ultimate showdown. Aaron also finds time to craft several intricate booby-traps; quite a feat given the innumerable FBI helicopters hovering over the entire Portland area.
Friedkin has positioned The Hunted as a psychological thriller, but, ultimately, we know almost nothing about Bonham and even less about Aaron. The few suggestions early on that indicate deeper insight – including a pro-animal rant by Aaron during his interrogation, the hint of a paternalistic relationship between L.T. and Aaron, and cryptic references to some undercover missions – are quickly dropped. Perhaps because the characters are so poorly drawn, both Del Toro and Jones deliver what may be the worst performances of their careers. Then again, Friedkin may be to blame. He’s certainly devolved as a director during his career; with this derivative film, he hasn’t even bothered to connect the crudely drawn dots. Apparently, he assumes audiences can do it themselves. Trust me, it’s not worth the effort.
(Appeared in Gay City News)