Length: 94 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Release Date: August 12, 2003
Mix one part Apocalypse Now , three parts First Blood, and two parts Shoot to Kill, stir in “by the numbers” performances by Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio Del Toro, and you get The Hunted - a watchable, if not overly engaging chase film. In terms of plot, this film covers no new ground. We’ve seen it all before. Some scenes clearly evoke memories of the above-mentioned films... so clearly, at times, you want to shout out a scene you recall as if you were a contestant on a game show... sort of an interactive Jeopardy. “I’ll take First Blood for two hundred please, Alex.”
The single biggest problem with this film is the lack of a script...
...but it’s not all bad. William Friedkin, whose roots are in documentary filmmaking, can deliver impressively with little script to work from.
L.T. Bonham (Tommy Lee Jones) is a retired “Special Ops” trainer... a man who is empowered to teach men to kill, but who has never himself killed - or had to face the consequences of his teachings... "The difficult part is learning how to turn it off."
Aaron Hallam is a man over the edge. Formerly trained by Bonham, and decorated for his skill in the field, he has gone rogue... killing according to his own twisted code.
Bonham’s former handlers get him to agree to go after the man he trained... to kill his “son,” as it were. Parallels to the story of Abraham and Isaac are rather forced by the opening narration with Johnny Cash reading lyrics from Bob Dylan’s Highway 61:
God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son”...
Well Abe says, “Where do you want this killin’ done?”
God says, “Out on Highway 61.”
The film doesn’t pretend to delve deeply into character or plot. It is purely about the chase. We’re given the obligatory prologue which explains Hallam’s state of mind. Later on, we’re given brief flashbacks of Bonham, as he trains special ops in the art of killing. Aside from that, the film goes on with minimal dialog or distraction as the chase winds its way to a rather implausible climax where, near a major U.S. city with dozens of government agents in pursuit - both protagonist and antagonist find the time to literally forge new weapons to use against one another.
The film does have its good points, though.
The fight scenes are simple and gritty. They are close up and personal. No CGI or wires here... a refreshing sight compared to many recent films. The fight choreography doesn’t disappoint, and it’s not structured so closely that you can read the actors’ lips as they count out the beats... “One, two PUNCH... three, four BLOCK...”
Caleb Deschanel’s cinematography is breathtaking. Much of the film takes place in the lush forests of Oregon - the images crisp and full of texture. Deschanel makes use of shifting color palettes. In Bonham and Hallam's lonely world, everything is literally and visually cold. As they are forced to interact with the civilized world, we see them through a warmer lens.
The Hunted is a film pared the core. There is nothing superfluous... no subplots, no relationships to get in the way. It’s as if the hunt is happening, and the camera is along for the chase. While this works to an extent, there is a void of emotion and motivation. We watch events unfold as if we’re witnessing them firsthand, without the benefit of a scriptwriter or narrator to fill in the details.
Some will be thrown by the shifting color palettes, however, the cold imagery so predominant in the film is not a fault of the transfer. The picture is crisp and sharp, bringing out every detail of the beautiful photography. Everything else aside, this is a gorgeous film to watch. The anamorphic transfer is 1.78:1.
The Hunted is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. This is an extremely active mix. Surround effects are present throughout. The opening Kosovo sequence may become a demo scene for some, with lots of gunfire and explosions filling the soundfield. One scene in the film has the antagonist’s voice coming from behind as he taunts his prey. The low frequency effects are also very active throughout. The dialog is slightly over-sweetened - everyone in this film seems a natural baritone. Ambient noise is a bit strong. Overall, it’s a good mix that gets an “A” for utilization of surrounds and LFE, and a “B” for clarity and fidelity.
The Hunted contains a commentary track by William Friedkin. I’ve always enjoyed listening to Friedkin talk about his craft, and the sections of commentary I sampled for this review didn’t disappoint. Friedkin is always animated when discussing his work, and he speaks in nontechnical terms. He speaks often of inspiration, and of improvisational filmmaking. He doesn’t storyboard his films, and improvises entire scenes on location - perhaps a result of his documentarian philosophies. If you want to hear about the technical side of filmmaking, you won’t find it here. That’s not what Friedkin is about.
There are six brief deleted scenes, with a “Play All” feature. None of the scenes add anything of interest to the film.
Pursuing The Hunted, approximately 8 minutes
Friedkin speaks of his inspiration for the film.
Jones and Del Toro talk about getting into their respective roles.
Filming The Hunted, approximately 9 minutes
Friedkin talks about improvisation and about how he wanted a “documentary feel.” Spotlight on Caleb Deschanel’s cinematography.
Planning and execution of the Kosovo sequence.
Tracking The Hunted, approximately 4 minutes
Spotlight on technical advisor, Tom Brown
The Cutting Edge, approximately 8 minutes
Improvising whole scenes
Choreographing fight scenes
Previews: Timeline, The Core, Indiana Jones
The extras are not anamorphically enhanced.
If you’re a fan of the genre, The Hunted is worth checking out. Once you’ve whetted your appetite, go find yourself a copy of Wolfgang Peterson’s superior In the Line of Fire.