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The Hunted

Review by Christopher Caile

Editor’s Note: FightingArts.com was invited to preview this film and interview one of its primary actors, Oscar winner Benicio Del Toro, as well as Tom Brown, Jr.,who not only was an inspiration for the film, but acted as technical consultant.

Paramount Picture’s new psychological thriller, “The Hunted”, is an intense, bloody and violent testosterone-pumping adventure-thriller that falls short of its potential. This is not a film for the sensitive, weak-stomached or faint hearted. But if you are a martial artist and like up-close realistic hand-to-hand knife combat – and the film must be praised for its knife fights -- you might just enjoy this film.

“The Hunted” stars Oscar winners Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio Del Toro along with Connie Nielsen. The film was directed by Academy Award and Golden Globe winner Billy Friedkin. The film is rated “R.”

This film seemed to be a combination remake of several films. First is “The Fugitive” that featured a chase between a wrongfully-accused prison escapee against the US Marshalls ordered to find him, headed by a character also played Tommy Lee Jones.

A camouflaged Hallam (Del Toro), a crazed Ninja-like killer melts through the forest

This plot is combined with the ex-Green Beret protagonist with a featured knife as seen in “Rambo,” who wages a one-man guerrilla war in the mountains. But in this movie the Rambo-type figure is no hero – he has dropped over the mental edge into his own haunted hell to become a demented killer.

Master tracker L.T. Bonham (Jones) tracks his prodigy

The movie’s plot is potentially a good one. It is about a wilderness tracker and retired Special Forces trainer, L.T. Bonham (Jones), who teams up with the FBI, headed by special agent Abby Durrell (Connie Nielsen), to hunt down the perpetrator of a series of grisly murders of hunters in the Pacific Northwest. Jones soon recognizes signs that the killer is a former student, a military special operation’s killer, Aaron Hallam, enigmatically portrayed by Del Toro.

Both main characters are internally tormented. Bonham (Jones) is driven by guilt over having trained military special-operations assassins, and Aaron Hallam‘s (Del Toro) mind has been warped by the bloody butchery he experienced. Early in the film, the Jones character, while teaching Special Forces how to kill, says that once the mind can accept killing, the physical part is easy. What’s not easy is turning it off. Del Toro’s mind can’t turn it off.

The film opens in 1999 with Hallam (Del Toro), Jones’ student, on a secret behind-the-lines operation during the bloodiest fighting in Kosovo. It’s night. Buildings lay in ruins. Fire, explosions, bombing from American bombs and constant gun fire on the ground are all around. Against this fiery background Serbian soldiers are carrying out atrocities against Albanian civilians. It’s a blood bath. Del Toro silently slips through this carnage, past guards, into a make-shift headquarters building to assassinate the Serbian officers who had ordered the butchery.

Hallam (Del Toro) is tormented by these memories. There are incessant nightmares, and he goes AWOL. In some demented way he reverts to a path that parallels his former teacher. Bonham (Jones) has become an agent for the charitable WildLife Fund. Hallam too escapes into the wilderness and becomes a protector of wildlife in his own way: he resents hi-tech hunters and begins to hunt them down using only his senses, camouflage and a knife – a knife that becomes a secondary character in the film. His training assists him. He can magically disappear into the forest, almost before one's very eyes, and then appear suddenly in violence.

Hallam’s brutal killings prompt the FBI to hire Bonham, who is uniquely equipped to track and find this type of elusive killer. He is convinced by gruesome pictures of the crime scene to come out of retirement. Once on the scene, Bonham heads into the woods alone and soon recognizes clues that point to his own protégé as the killer. Bonham then begins to track Hallam alone across countryside and forests, both men using their survival and tracking skills as Hallam constructs elaborate booby traps to stop him.

Bonham’s (Jones) tracking is phenomenal, expertise reminiscent of that portrayed in the film “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” After capture, Del Toro’s character makes an escape, the action moving to an urban environment. The chase includes thrilling action, such as a spectacular stunt from Portland’s interstate Bridge into the waters of the Williamette River below. The fast-paced action leads toward a climactic, bloody knife battle from which only one will emerge.

William Friedkin, the film’s director, was inspired to make the movie after befriending Tom Brown, Jr., a wilderness tracker and survivalist who trained Delta Force and Navy Seal forces. He taught real world, Ninja-type expertise on how to use the environment, camouflage, and make way through enemy territory invisibly and without a sound, like a shadow, to be aware of danger and how to avoid it. The knife featured in the film was Brown’s too, especially developed by him for wilderness survival and now produced by a major knife manufacturer.

Friedkin says, “I was fascinated with the nature of the man (Brown) who has these skills – he’s able to survive and kill – but he’s never really used those skills in combat.”

Then Friedkin read a script by David and Peter Griffiths about a Delta Force style assassin who became a serial killer. A film script was then developed. Tom Brown was recruited to train the actors. Knife specialists and Navy Seal trainers Thomas Kier and Rafael Kayanan also worked as advisors to the film. Mark Stefanch, of Navy Seal Team 6, taught Jones and Del Toro other aspects of military combat.

So far so good, but the film breaks down in its production. Friedkin is known for exploring heroes divided against themselves, such as in “The Exorcist” and “The French Connection.” But in this film Friedkin seems himself divided. On one hand the film was inspired by Tom Brown and his remarkable survivalist and tracking skills. It provides a novel twist and much of the film’s publicity features this aspect. Within the film, however, it’s as if Friedkin or his screen writers lost nerve, for the action soon reverts from a wilderness setting to the urban chase, mayhem, action, stunts and hand-to-hand combat.

The whole set up of the Hallam (Del Toro) character is thus wasted, along with the tracker, survivalist theme. It was limited to the first half hour of the film. The film could have been so much more. It should have focused on aspects of survival, camouflage, tracking and counter-tracking across the wilderness -- the hunter against the hunted where senses, instinct and training are pitted against each other – using the same test of nerves, action, and tension that supported “The Fugitive.” But it didn’t happen. Yes, we see Del Toro in camouflage, melting into the background. We see his ability to appear and attack as if from nowhere. But these take second seat in the overall action, almost cameo in character.

Missing in action, too, was any depth of character development or exploration of the inner conflict that drove both Bonham (Jones) and Hallam (Del Toro). Friedkin tries to set this up in the introduction to the movie and visually by presenting both characters independently of each other in three non-verbal scenes. Their long term bond is sought to be established with a single sentence: “Hey, L.T. (Bonham).” This doesn’t work. The characters and relationships are never developed, so the audience can not fully identify with them.

There is great visual imagery, but interplay of dialogue and personality is wanting. With so little to sustain the film, perhaps this is the reason that the action quickly moves to an urban environment, where stunts, car chases and hand-to hand combat become primary. Time after time Harram gets cornered but he continues to escape in stunt get-aways that strain credulity.

The film must be complimented, however, for its realistic betrayal of hand-to hand knife combat. The film does not use the typical Hollywood stunts with flashy action. Instead Bonham (Jones) and Hallam (Del Toro) use pragmatic Philippino knife fighting (Kali) skills -- knife thrusts, parries and slices combined with grappling and body off-balancing. It is upfront, close-in and brutal. Everyone bleeds.

Visually this is very powerful, but the person next to me viewing the film actually hid from much of the action. She said afterwards, “I just couldn’t look at that much violence.”

The realism that Friedkin so relentlessly brings to the military, FBI agent and knife-fighting scenes seems to be forgotten in the rest of the film. Some of the wilderness traps set for Jones, for example, are unrealistic, as they would take too much time to build. In the urban concrete environment, the ability of Del Toro’s character to vanish also becomes more difficult to believe. Likewise, his finding time to forge a new knife weapon out of rusted abandoned steel in the midst of his urban pursuit begs reality. Would Bonham ever have been unarmed?

No doubt many viewers will forgive these lapses for the fast-paced action, stunts and thrilling chase. And like the real life action the move portrays, the film’s images, once seen, are hard to get out of your head.


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About the Reviewer:

Christopher Caile is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of FightingArts.com. He has been a student of the martial arts for over 43 years. He first started in judo. Then he added karate as a student of Phil Koeppel in 1959. Caile introduced karate to Finland in 1960 and then hitch-hiked eastward. In Japan (1961) he studied under Mas Oyama and later in the US became a Kyokushinkai Branch Chief. In 1976 he followed Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura when he formed Seido karate and is now a 6th degree black belt in that organization's honbu dojo. Other experience includes judo, aikido, diato-ryu, kenjutsu, kobudo, Shinto Muso-ryu jodo, boxing and several Chinese fighting arts including Praying mantis, Pak Mei (White Eyebrow) and shuai chiao. He is also a student of Zen. A long-term student of one branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Qigong, he is a personal disciple of the qi gong master and teacher of acupuncture Dr. Zaiwen Shen (M.D., Ph.D.) and is Vice-President of the DS International Chi Medicine Association. He holds an M.A. in International Relations from American University in Washington D.C. and has traveled extensively through South and Southeast Asia. He frequently returns to Japan and Okinawa to continue his studies in the martial arts, their history and tradition. In his professional life he has been a businessman, newspaper journalist, inventor and entrepreneur.


To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

martial arts movies, martial arts in films, knife fighting, combat training, tracking, survivalist, Kali, Kali knife fighting, Tom Brown Jr., Tommy Lee Jones, Benicio Del Toro, Connie Nielsen


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