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'Hunted, The'

'The Hunted' gets lost in the woods

Friday, March 14, 2003

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

Someone told me last week he had seen the trailer for "The Hunted" and that it looked to him a lot like "First Blood," the 1982 film that introduced John Rambo to the world of cinema.

'The Hunted'

RATING: R for strong bloody violence and some language

STARRING: Tommy Lee Jones, Benicio Del Toro

DIRECTOR: William Friedkin

WEB SITE: www.huntedmovie.com


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Both movies feature combat veterans who snap, haunted by their bloody memories of war. Rambo, played by Sylvester Stallone, was goaded into violence by the tauntings of a tyrannical sheriff. In the new film, Aaron Hallam (Benicio Del Toro) murders two pair of hunters on his own accord.

Trained to survive in the most arduous circumstances, both men brutalize the overmatched law enforcement agents trying to catch them. The only possibility lies in the intervention of their former mentors, who know how dangerous these men can be.

Such similarities notwithstanding, "The Hunted" also addresses some favorite themes of its director, William Friedkin, who set his high-water mark 30 years ago with the double-whammy brilliance of "The French Connection" and "The Exorcist."

"The Hunted" begins with Johnny Cash reciting from Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited," specifically the stanza that begins "God said to Abraham, kill me a son." The movie cuts to what looks like the Apocalypse. In fact, it is a town in Kosovo aflame at night, with Serb soldiers conducting a massacre of ethnic Albanians.

Aaron Hallam is here, on assignment with American Special Forces, to assassinate the general leading the raid. Those are his red-rimmed eyes we see in the dark. He cannot forget the horror he has witnessed. Back home, when he sees hunters using unnecessary military scopes on their guns, he targets them for execution as well.

The FBI has the good sense to call in the one man capable of finding Hallam -- L.T. Bonham (Tommy Lee Jones), who taught Hallam and other military recruits how to kill and how to survive.

L.T., our figurative Abraham, knows he's going to have to kill his "son," and he knows he bears some responsibility for the younger man's killing spree. The two men fit into a line of Friedkin father-son surrogates ranging from Father Merrin and Father Karras in "The Exorcist" to the military men played by Jones and Samuel L. Jackson in "Rules of Engagement."

"The Hunted," written by David and Peter Griffiths and Art Monterastelli, also delves into issues of obsession and guilt that have played out in many of Friedkin's films. Bonham doesn't break the law with impunity like Popeye Doyle in "The French Connection" or the William Petersen character in "To Live and Die in L.A." But he gives off a feeling of "There but for the grace of God ..."

He lives in a cabin in the snow in British Columbia and gets drawn into the case with great reluctance, acceding only because he recognizes the handiwork of one of his own men. Guilt draws him from another angle -- Hallam wrote him asking for help, but Bonham never opened the letters, perhaps seeking to put his own nightmares behind him.

Unfortunately, most of this psychologically intriguing background is subsumed by the dynamics of the chase -- or, rather, a series of them that make up the bulk of the film. Bonham tracks Hallam through the deep woods, through the heart of a city and alongside the rushing waters of a furious river.

Jones conveys his man's skill at picking up the most minute clue with a cock of the head, a shift in the wrinkles covering his leathery face. Del Toro can make his man seem like a shadow, and his face is a mask of resigned sorrow.

The cat-and-mouse game proves exciting and unpredictable -- for a while. The longer it goes on (I was surprised the film runs just 94 minutes), the more I found myself wanting the movie to justify the biblical pretensions of its opening, the filmmaking panache of the Kosovo scene and the psychological fixations of its director.

Ron Weiskind can be reached at rweiskind@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581.

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