From the opening lines, in which a verse of Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited" are solemnly uttered by Johnny Cash, to the country legend's spirited rendition of that song in the closing credits, The Hunted is a terse, exciting, bittersweet chase. Recalling the classic, and effective, camera work which put its director, William Friedkin, on the Hollywood map, the veteran delivers a refreshing action movie that relies more heavily on solid filmmaking than poorly executed, computer-generated effects.
Still best known for that lengthy, unforgettable subway chase in which Gene Hackman's gruff New York City cop attempts to chase down the bad guys in The French Connection, Friedkin manages to bring much of the vigor and excitement of that taut sequence to his latest effort. The Hunted, about an expertly trained Special Forces soldier who becomes unhinged after a bloody tour in Kosovo, chronicles a simple search and destroy effort with an AWOL officer as the target. The bait is played by a beady-eyed Benicio Del Toro, who embodies the soft-spoken, broken, uber-G.I. Joe of Aaron Hallam with an eerie dose of tenderness and sensitivity. Taught to kill with precision and stealth by a loner outdoorsman named L.T. Bonham (Tommy Lee Jones), who did "contract work" for the U.S. Army, the elder woodsman is called back on the job after Hallam brutally murders two hunters in the Oregon woods.
Not much for subtlety, The Hunted trumps various scenarios that depict a seeker moving in on his prey. From Jones' introductory scene in which he tracks down a white wolf that's been caught in a trap to Del Toro's first taste of illegal blood (which comes from those two hunters, who happen to be in pursuit of a majestic moose), the film seemingly tosses out a variety of promotional material for the ASPCA. And, in the end, the message here is about as deep and blunt as something that organization might have put on TV: toying with the balance of nature and killing other beings is wrong.
Like its sparse and direct message, the film thankfully keeps the chatter to a minimum, letting the action play out in well-crafted tracking sequences. From the lush greenery of the Oregon wilderness to the crowded streets of Portland, Friedkin shows he still knows how to film a damn good chase scene. In one of the most electrifying segments of the film, Jones' tracker tries to chase down a fleeing Del Toro as the elusive soldier escapes into a local fountain, a derelict-ridden park, and finally onto a familiar site: a city subway. Pulling from his familiar bag of tricks, Friedkin employs many of the same visual bells and whistles he used in The French Connection from terse background music to lengthy, uncut sequences. And while The Hunted certainly never grabs hold of you in the same way Friedkin's signature, Oscar-winning, picture did, it does recall an era of filmmaking when action was staged instead of merely programmed.
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