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THE HUNTED

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Tommy Lee Jones, Benicio Del Toro, Connie Nielsen
Director: William Friedkin
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: See Review
Length: 94 Minutes
Release Date: August 12, 2003

“If you cross this line…you better be ready to kill me.”

Film ***

The idea of another chase movie may be as dated as any clichéd movie genre, but The Hunted is a terrific exception. The reason for this is that it happens to have some top craftsmanship behind it. In terms of action, it's one of those rare cases where the violence and action seem to have something of a jolting value. Since the movie, which runs at a brisk 94 minutes, is essentially one extended chase between two characters, leading up to a power packed duel in the end, The Hunted earns its stripes as a pure action movie, but it also manages to fit in some strong character development, making it even more exciting. It also doesn't hurt that the director happens to be William Friedkin, who practically invented the chase movie.

Tommy Lee Jones stars as L.T. Bonham, a forest tracker who at one point served as a civilian employee for the U.S. Army. His work for the armed forces consisted of training the most elite of soldiers to make their own weapons and stalk, track, hunt and kill with the flawless timing. Although it goes without saying that the techniques taught to the soldiers can be somewhat psychologically assaulting, no one ever thought that the quite unique killing techniques would find its way outside the battlefield. However, that's exactly the case when a string of bloody, brutal murders occur in a game hunting sight in Silver Creek, Oregon. When L.T. is called in to verify the stylized killing techniques, he doesn't hesitate when discovering it was possible the murders were executed by one of the men he trained years ago.

Not too soon afterward, L.T. comes face to face with such a suspected figure, that of ex-soldier Aaron Hallam (Benicio Del Toro), who was trained by L.T. and put the killing art to very good use while fighting in Kosovo in 1999. Now, it appears that Hallam has gone completely insane, due to the graphic horrors of war haunting him ever since he served his country. Hallam, who's taken in by authorities, claims to be defending the various animals of the wilderness, as the murder victims were deer hunters. When a pair of government agents arrive instructing the cops that Hallam's identity can't even be disclosed, it becomes even more convoluted.

Then the chase begins, and at a breathtaking pace. Hallam escapes the clutches of the government cohorts trying to shadow his existence, and the body count rises considerably. The essential chase begins when L.T., along with a female FBI field agent (Connie Nielsen), visit the home of Hallam's ex-girlfriend, where he's likely to be hiding. Then the pursuit leads to a city area, where Hallam eludes his pursuers through in a definitive cat and mouse style. The chase is put on hold when Hallam escapes by killing his way through a set of steam tunnels and fearlessly leaping off a city bridge and into river waters, identical to his survival skills.

The heart of the movie is the confrontation between L.T. and Hallam. It is clear that the two will face off in a grueling act of brutal combat. Since L.T. was the very person who made Hallam the killing machine that he is, he alone is the only one who can defeat him. The knife combat scenes are superbly done, and have an in-your-face quality about them. When a person is wounded or injured, it feels quite believable. When the two confront each other for a deadly face off in the end, it's nothing short of razor sharp intensity.

For all its wide scope of action, The Hunted contains two ultimately strong performances in the lead. Jones is nothing short of believable in the role of the rugged veteran, but it's kind of hard not to have the movie stolen from you when your co-star is Benicio Del Toro, who is without a doubt one of the most original acting talents in cinema's history. Anything he portrays, you buy into at first glance, and Del Toro is the absolute perfect actor to play a violent psychopath like Aaron Hallam, whose violent acts don't come as a result of rage, but from a place so deep in his soul that no one can beg to understand it. Del Toro masters this notion remarkably well.

The Hunted blends in elements of First Blood and The Fugitive to make a most effective action thriller. Directed with endless skill by William Friedkin, returning to his chase-movie roots that help to create such classics as The French Connection and To Live and Die in L.A., and highlighted by the strong turns from the two lead actors, this is an inspired, if not all too thought provoking, action thriller entry.

Video ****

Paramount's top hand quality of video transfers is illustrated yet again with this superb anamorphic offering. Making valuable use of the sets and locations, director Friedkin and cinematographer Caleb Deschanel create a striking look to the movie, which in turn has elevated to a remarkable looking disc. Picture quality is endlessly clear and sharp, complete with alive natural colors, and a well amount of detail. A full frame version is also available.

Audio ****

The power of the sound quality provided by the 5.1 mix can be demonstrated right at the beginning of the movie, which is a sequence of Hallam as a soldier fighting in Kosovo, and proven even more strong a few scenes later when Hallam stalks two deer hunters in the wilderness. In that scene, Hallam stalks the men by running and hiding like a phantom, and taunts the men with a menacing voice, which is delivered in magnificent range, given the set piece. The rest of the movie sounds excellent, as well, with dialogue sounding clearly, the action set pieces delivering raw power, and very good background noise created by several sets in the movie. Outstanding job!

Features ***1/2

Some good extras here, including 4 featurettes; “Pursuing The Hunted”, “Filming The Hunted”, “Tracking The Hunted”, and “The Cutting Edge”. Also featured is a commentary track by William Friedkin, 8 deleted scenes, a trailer, as well as trailers for The Core, The Indiana Jones Collection, and the upcoming theatrical release, Timeline.

Summary:

The Hunted is as sharply crafted as the weapons used in the movie. This will no doubt fit the bill of both action lovers, and character driven pieces, as well.