|"God said to Abraham, kill me a son."|
Submitted for your consideration the career of one William Friedkin, a director who began his career in the 1960s and is still working, albeit sporadically, today. It's tempting to divide Friedkin's career into three neat sections. There's the certifiable classics, masterpieces of groundbreaking American cinema that are still as fresh, thrilling and compelling today as when they were first released. Those films are, of course, THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971) and THE EXORCIST (1973). THE FRENCH CONNECTION, a bracing, gritty urban cop thriller scored eight Academy Award nominations winning five: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Gene Hackman), Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Film Editing. Then, two years later, THE EXORCIST caused more than a few heads to spin and vomit to be spewed (both on screen and in theaters), in what ranks as one of the most terrifying films ever made. THE EXORCIST was the first horror film to receive a Best Picture of the Year Academy Award nomination, along with nine other Oscar nominations, winning two: Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Sound Mixing.
Then there are the films that were good, solid productions but somehow failed to find large and receptive audiences. Films such as SORCERER (1977) (a remake of the French thriller THE WAGES OF FEAR (1953)) and the neo-noir TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. (1985). Finally, there are the absolute WTF? bombs such as CRUISING (1980), in which Al Pacino spends the entire film desperately trying not to drop the soap and the D.O.A. comedy DEAL OF THE CENTURY (1983). You have to give Friedkin props for having such a long and incredibly varied career as a filmmaker. Some out of the park blasts, a few solid base hits and one or two (or three) strike outs. Not bad for almost fifty years of movie making.
All of which brings us to THE HUNTED (2003), which I watched for the first time last week. The film has strong echoes of the Sylvester Stallone thriller FIRST BLOOD (1982) but ultimately blazes it's own trail. U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Aaron Hallam (Benicio del Toro), is a trained special ops killer. We see him in action in Kosovo in the film's opening sequence. After his tour of duty is over, Aaron can't adjust to peace time, civilian life. He apparently suffers from PTSD (although the screenplay, by David Griffiths, Peter Griffiths and Art Monterastelli, never makes this explicit) and begins stalking and killing hunters in the woods of the Pacific Northwest.
The man who trained Aaron, L.T. Bonham (Tommy Lee Jones), lives a life of seclusion in the Alaskan wilderness. He wants nothing more to do with war and the training of men to be killers. But Bonham is an expert tracker and he's the only man who can track down Aaron and bring him in to stand trial.
Bonham reluctantly agrees. He successfully tracks and subdues Aaron who is taken into custody and transported to Portland, Oregon. Bonham thinks his job is over but wait a minute Chester, before you know it Aaron escapes and thus begins a long chase through an urban jungle in which Bonham's tracking skills are put to the test. I kept hoping Aaron would find time to stop and eviscerate a Portland hipster or two or three (hell, a dozen would have been nice), while he was on the run. I would have liked this film a lot more if he had.
Aaron and Bonham eventually end up back in the wilderness where the whole long contest of wills and skills began. Bonham realizes that he is responsible for creating this killing machine and he is ultimately responsible for ending the threat. Aaron looks to Bonham as a father figure, one to whom he repeatedly reached out to in the form of unanswered letters. That's a lot of guilt for Bonham to carry.
The fight and chase scenes, both in the forest and the city, are expertly staged and filmed. However, both of these men absorb an incredible amount of physical damage during the film and it's amazing that (trained or not), they're both still standing (more or less) at the end. Friedkin knows how to orchestrate action sequences and the cinematography by Caleb Deschanel is especially good at bringing the natural and man made worlds to life.
THE HUNTED is not a bad film but it feels like there's something missing. I could have used a bit more explanation as to what was going on psychologically with both men if only to add a layer of substance to the characters. These guys are trained to kill and it's hard for Aaron to turn that skill set off with just the flick of a switch while Bonham falls back into his old habits with frightening ease.
As is, THE HUNTED ranks as one of those middling Friedkin films. Not a classic. Not a bomb. Just a solid action thriller with two very good actors in the lead roles. Worth seeing.