The Hunted begins with the haunting words of Johnny Cash, recounting the biblical account of Abraham, in which God said to Abraham, "Kill me a son." Those words set a tone for the entire film, an oddly layered experience with little dialogue and a lot of knife fighting action.
Basically a commando's version of hide and seek, The Hunted follows Tommy Lee Jones as he hunts down a paranoid and disturbed multiple murderer, who turns out not only to be elite ex-military, but Jones' prize student. Now at this point, you're probably tuning out, because frankly our talented friend Tommy Lee has really played out his "Fugitive" character to the point of exhaustion. We've seen him play the same hard-nosed lawman in dozens of films, ranging from The Fugitive to Men In Black II. Not this time! L.T. Bonham (Jones) is something different.
First off, he's a man of peace. He trained military commandos, but has never been a part of the military. He's a skilled tracker and fighter, but has never killed. Instead, retired from training recruits he works for the National Wildlife Foundation, saving furry lives in the back woods of Canada. Tommy's entire demeanor is very different from other films. He still falls back on the slightly fidgety, commanding performance we know, but at the same time he MOVES differently. He seems constantly alive. His eyes are always roving, he's watching and detailing every little thing he says. He seems uncomfortable around people and eager to be done with his duty. L.T. talks little, he simply acts and does so alone.
Tommy Lee Jones is and has been a fantastic actor, but with all his character type repeats its easy to forget that he has skills. Here, he lets us dig down inside the emotions of his character without really saying or doing ANYTHING that might normally let us understand the man.
The Hunted doesn't spell things out for us. It simply jumps into the chase and we follow along. I love the way director William Friedkin uses his camera to show us exactly HOW L.T. tracks his prey. Similar to the brilliant tracking scene in last year's The Two Towers, Friedkin hops down into to his character's perspective, focusing in and out on the almost invisible signs L.T. sees to lead him on a dimly laid out trail.
Benicio Del Toro plays Aaron Hallman, aforementioned ex-military psycho on the loose somewhere in the northern USA. I'm not sure he has more than a paragraph of dialogue in the entire movie, but when he does speak its poignant and sticks with you. I loved the way he interacts with Tommy Lee, silent yet obviously desperate for his attention. Seeking that father/son relationship that he deeply needs. Internally he realizes he needs someone to MAKE him to stop and in a way he leads on his old mentor for that very purpose.
But basically, this is a bare-bones, get to the point film. Both protagonists are almost wholly antisocial and really lousy at telling stories. Literally the entire movie is an extended version of freeze tag, played with knives and sneaky woodcraft. In this kids game, there's no sparing the blood. It flows freely, as you'd expect in a movie where most of the damage is done with military issue pointy sticks.
My only real complaint is that perhaps the movie is a little too stripped down. Granted, it is nice to step away from the he-said she-said cliché's of action filmmaking. Truly it was great for once to see an action movie in which the hero doesn't fall in love with the girl and the bad guy doesn't try to use the girl as leverage against the hero. Just plain hide and seek. But it really is SO plain that even though certain moments are likely to stick with you, in the end The Hunted will be quickly forgotten.