Watching "The Hunted" is taking a break from the bells, whistles and everything else from Hollywood that comes sugarcoated. With today's technology, we don't just appreciate special effects, we expect them. Before, flying was trait that solely belonged to Superman. Now, the everyday street fighter in the current action films seem to defy gravity. In "The Hunted," we get a classic man vs. man chase that is a test of might, not who looks the best in front of a blue screen.
Aaron Hallam (Benicio Del Toro) suffers from a battle stress, a syndrome that makes former soldiers mentally unstable. While in Kosovo, he witnessed the brutal Serbian genocide that has been plaguing the nation, which has taken a mental toll on Hallam. He eventually snaps, and returns back to the United States where he brutally murders two hunters. For some unexplained reason, Hallam sympathizes animals and uses them as justification for killing hunters. This flawed excuse dangerously plays with "The Life of David Gale" but "The Hunted" isn't about plot. It isn't about characters. It's about the chase.
The FBI goes after him, but every agent sent on his trail meets the same bloody demise as the hunters. It's time to call in the one man who can possibly catch him. L.T. Bonham (Tommy Lee Jones) is the man for the job. As a hired military contractor, L.T. trained soldiers to become the "best of the best." He teaches the elite units everything from basic survival skills to the stalking, the hunting and the killing of a man. "Once you learn how to kill a man mentally, the physical part is easy," L.T. explains. "The hard part is turning it off." Hallam is one of L.T's. students. He is taught everything, but is unaware that he will eventually be unable to turn himself off.
And not only do we see the flashback where L.T. is training the elite soldiers to become killing machines, we see the techniques being used in the actual chase. In so many movies, when a scene ends, the clothes are dry and the blood is gone. In "The Hunted," the blood stains and the fatigue carries over. When a major artery is cut, the character doesn't just shake it off, he has to securely tighten the tourniquet and stop the bleeding. Characters don't just pull knives out of thin air, they make them using the tools provided to them by nature.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Before the chase starts, L.T. is called to the crime scene where the hunters were murdered. Immediately going to work, L.T. examines the crime scene. He looks at bent twigs, stepped on grass, tree carvings, man-made pathways, and shoeprints.
Before L.T. takes off, the lead FBI investigator (Connie Nielsen) gets in her last minute questions. "Where's you gun?" she asks. "I don't like guns," L.T. responds. "How will we keep in-touch?" she asks again. "If I'm not back in two days I'll be dead." She insists that he carries a walkie-talkie, although we know that the radio is no more useful than a paperweight to L.T.
His instinctive skills bring him face-to-face with Hallam, and the first of many hand to hand combat scenes take place. Again, there is no special effects; we don't need them, we don't want them. The maneuvers are swift and crafty; both men respecting their opponent. In one scene, Hallam is knocked to the ground but L.T. doesn't move. Before we can blink, Hallam quickly gets back to his feet, ready for more combat. This is another impressive technique that doesn't need the assistance of special effects.
The chase locations not only take place in the jungles, but in the city which easily compares to a jungle. There are sewer chases, train climbing, and car jams to evade. Waterfalls distort views and make hiding easier and of course the crowded streets make chasing more difficult.
Director William Friedkin (The Exorcist) allows the camera to get in close and cinematographer Caleb Deschanel takes advantage of the backgrounds behind the characters. While L.T. is scouting a scene, we see Hallam in the corner of the screen making a getaway. This allows the audience to get involved. When the camera pans by a park we look at every person trying to identify which one is Hallam, posing as a pedestrian or homeless man sleeping on a park bench.
A few elements are questionable, like when the chase briefly stops so both men can carve knives out of rock and build fires to heat iron rods. At one point, Hallam uses ropes to suspends a tree trunk that will eventually be used as a battering ram. I'm guessing the reason for their desire to use bare-bone tools is to make it a complete authentic test of man vs. man. Whomever uses their knowledge and skills the best will ultimately win.
The final scene doesn’t take place inside a ring of fire or on the highest level of a smoke and steam factory, but next to a river running through the jagged rocks. The close camera lets us see the blood fly from every gash and wound as they both try to make their fatal jabs.
"The Hunted" is one of the most entertaining movies this year that doesn't have to rely on CGI to be impressive. Take a great scene when L.T. jumps off a rooftop and makes a thud when he hits the ground. It wasn't a high-dive from the tallest skyscraper, it was a simple jump made from an ordinary one-story rooftop. But it looked real, it looked impressive, it looked painful. If you're looking for a good man vs. man chase movie; "The Hunted" is your medicine.
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