The Hunted

on March 14, 2003 by Paul Clinton
William Friedkin's skilled old hand pushes “The Hunted” along so briskly that you almost don't mind the howlers in the script or the expression-starved performance from Benicio Del Toro. Almost, but not quite.

Friedkin, who hasn't made a truly memorable movie since “To Live and Die in L.A.” almost 20 years ago, proves to be the difference. He brings tension to a “Rambo”-familiar storyline about an ex-Special Forces assassin who continues to kill on the home turf.

This time out, the focus is less on the survivalist tricks (you won't see Del Toro sewing up any wounds by candlelight). In some ways, “The Hunted” could accurately be labeled an ecological revenge story.

Del Toro is Aaron Hallam, a decorated CIA assassin who killed strongmen in Bosnia and now mutilates big-game hunters (hunters as hunted is the not-so-subtle theme) to teach mankind some humility. The villain hunters are cut up for tracking down a deer with high-powered rifles.

Friedkin and the three writers turn the tables again as the FBI recruits L.T. Bonham (Tommy Lee Jones), the man who trained Hallam, to track down the rogue soldier.

A jittery Jones--at first reluctant to take the assignment, then dogged and instinctual--is in a familiar role, but he doesn't sleepwalk through the movie. His L.T. is a man showing his age, but able to pin down one last fugitive.

The movie's ideas about man's primitivism in the wilderness (of the forest, as well as the city) are nothing new and often laughable. However, Friedkin does stage a lively, and bloody, knife-fight climax at the lip of a raging waterfall.

Johnny Cash reads a scripture-sounding speech about biblical characters Abraham and Isaac over the opening credits and contributes two gravel-voiced songs to the soundtrack (including a rendition of Dylan's “Highway 61 Revisited”). Connie Nielsen (“One Hour Photo”) plays an FBI agent. Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Benicio del Toro and Connie Nielsen. Directed by William Friedkin. Written by David Griffiths, Peter Griffiths and Art Monterastelli. Produced by Ricardo Mestres and James Jacks. A Paramount release. Thriller. Rated R for strong bloody violence and some language. Running time: 94 min

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