Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio Del Toro are immensely talented actors who have made great films and made films great. Director William Friedkin needn’t sweat his cinematic immortality. “The Exorcist” would’ve guaranteed it. “The French Connection” was icing on the cake. Assembling these three for an atmospheric meditation on manliness wasn’t a bad idea. Paying to see the finished product definitely would be.
Hastily thrown together as a potential actors strike loomed two years ago, “The Hunted” plays like a two hour trailer, an outline for a movie whose makers have yet to fill in and flesh out its bare, broadly stroked bones. Del Toro’s a former special ops commando who’s flipped his lid and turned into a maniac fond of tracking down hunters in the woods of the northwest and giving them a grisly taste of their own medicine. Jones is the retired military consultant who trained him and made him into the “killing machine” that he is. The FBI figures it takes one to catch one and convinces Jones to help them find him.
Which might have proven interesting enough had he not found Del Toro in under five minutes. I’m not kidding. Jones no sooner hits the forest where his one time student is suspected to be hiding and-bang-the two are face to face. As it turns out, the film is less about efforts to apprehend Del Toro’s character than incredibly lame attempts by law enforcement officials to hang onto him once they’ve taken him into custody.
I don’t want to give away too much. However, you deserve to know that this is a picture which suffers chronically from Jason Syndrome. If you’ve ever sat through any of the “Friday the 13th”s, you know what I’m talking about. Again and again, installment after installment, the same thing happens: somebody manages to lay old hockey head out; he’s on the ground inert and vulnerable but, instead of shooting the fiend to ensure that he’s dead, characters turn their backs and walk away only to discover to their lunkheaded horror, a moment later, that he has disappeared into the night.
In the same way, Benicio is available to various pursuers on numerous occasions in the course of “The Hunted.” The FBI lets him slip away. Police let him slip away. Tommy Lee Jones lets him slip away. This is a wackjob who filets and dismembers his innocent victims and has evaded justice repeatedly and yet, despite a wealth of opportunity, nobody who comes across him does the common sense thing and just pops him. If any of the characters in this thing had half a brain, the picture would run fifteen minutes tops.
After a while, the whole business begins to seem as ridiculous as it is repetitive. Especially when the two stars face off in hand to hand combat. I’m sorry. Jones is a fantastic actor but he’s what-75? I’m just not buying him as a match for a pumped up highly trained psycho in his prime.
Friedkin goes for a Peckinpah rawness in this ultra violent film, but its many holes and loose ends make it tough to take seriously. The viewer is never told, for example, what caused Del Toro to snap or what he’s up to in those Oregon woods. Is he some kind of eco-terrorist on a misguided mission to protect wildlife or just a bloodlusting nut trying to recreate the rush of battle? And what precisely is the connection between madman and mentor? In voice-over, Johnny Cash intones lines from “Highway 61 Revisited” about God telling Abraham to kill him a son but what does this have to do with these two? They aren’t father and son. Nothing in the script even suggests there was anything particularly close about their prior relationship.
The bottom line is the movie’s a mess. Friedkin would like one to believe there’s more than meets the eye to his tale of two trackers. If there’s deep meaning in there somewhere, though, I wasn’t able to pick up its trail.