The American soldier as a robotic killing machine is the theme of THE HUNTED, a thriller by William Friedkin (THE EXORCIST and the MOVIEGUIDE® Award-winning movie for mature audiences RULES OF ENGAGEMENT). Starring Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio Del Toro, Friedkin’s movie is an interesting and tense, but violent and not completely satisfying, action movie with a message.
The movie opens with American soldier Aaron Hallam, played by Benicio Del Toro, engaged in stopping brutal ethnic cleansing by a rampaging Serbian commander and his troops in Kosovo. As the commander and his men slaughter Muslim civilians in cold blood, Hallam sneaks up on the command post in a Mosque and slits the commander’s throat.
Tommy Lee Jones plays L.T. Bonham, a former special ops military instructor in the art of tracking, survival and brutal knife assassinations. One of L.T.’s former associates calls him in to help them catch Hallam. Viewers learn that L.T. actually had trained and mentored Hallam. Now, L.T. feels guilty about his part in training Hallam. Stopping Hallam becomes L.T.’s personal mission to expiate his guilt.
Friedkin’s THE HUNTED displays some of the classic elements of modern police thrillers established by television cop shows and such watershed 1968 movies as NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY (based on famous screenwriter William Goldman’s novel), director Peter Yates’ classic BULLITT with Steve McQueen, and director Don Siegel’s MADIGAN. Siegel’s popular, controversial 1971 movie DIRTY HARRY, starring Clint Eastwood, and Friedkin’s own Oscar-winning movie, THE FRENCH CONNECTION, also from 1971, solidified this genre’s lasting impact on Hollywood.
Like these movies, the hero in THE HUNTED, L.T., is emotionally involved with the criminal, in this case Hallam. Consequently, L.T.’s chase after Hallam becomes a case of personal justice. In fact, because L.T. trained Hallam to do the murderous things he’s now doing to innocent civilians, Hallam represents negative elements of L.T.’s own personality, things which L.T. fears in himself and things which L.T. has tried to reject. Finally, THE HUNTED also reflects the quality of police thrillers where the hero finds himself driven outside the restrictions of the law, because the law is too narrow and ineffectual to deal with the criminal and too rigid to handle the hero’s need for personal confrontation. Thus, in THE HUNTED, L.T. separates himself from the police officers chasing Hallam because they, and their system, are really incapable of catching Hallam and because L.T. needs to expiate his guilt for creating such a monster in the first place.
In this sense, THE HUNTED becomes a tragic story, because L.T. shares Hallam’s guilt. L.T. trained Hallam to do what he does, and that training has allowed Hallam to be destroyed by the sinful, violent nature which all of mankind has within itself. In the end, L.T. also must remain banished from human society. In fact, he banishes himself by returning to the isolated wilderness outpost in British Columbia where he serves as sort of a civilian ranger for the Wildlife Fund. This part of the movie shows that the hero in police thrillers is an extension of the American hero in many westerns, where the hero is often an archetypal wanderer who is neither part of Civilization nor part of the vast landscape, or Wilderness, in which he roams. This is partly why many westerns, like the endings to SHANE and John Ford’s THE SEARCHERS, and many police thrillers, like the endings to BULLITT and DIRTY HARRY, contain a tragic sense of loss. The ending of THE HUNTED falls squarely in the middle of that fine mythic tradition.
THE HUNTED has a light Christian worldview with some moral elements. At the beginning of the movie, for example, Johnny Cash sings some lines from Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited,” about God telling Abraham to kill his son. During the credits, Johnny Cash also sings his classic song, “When The Man Comes Around,” about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ separating the goats from the sheep. Clearly, the hero in THE HUNTED, L.T., represents Abraham, and Hallam represents Abraham’s son, who must be sacrificed to expiate L.T.’s guilt. In the end, of course, God spares the life of Abraham’s son, and substitutes a lamb. Later, the Bible tells us that Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God, and the Son of Man, who gave His life to save us from our sins. Echoes of this redemptive imagery exist in the haunting lyrics of Johnny Cash’s warning song, but although L.T. seems to find some peace in THE HUNTED, he does not find salvation.
Although THE HUNTED contains much depth to its characterizations, the action and dialogue do not seem quite as compelling as the movie’s song lyrics and visuals, including its visual symbols. Ultimately, therefore, THE HUNTED may not completely satisfy moviegoers, even action movie fans.
Despite the redemptive, moral elements in THE HUNTED, the movie contains very strong violence, with significant amounts of blood. It also shows the brutality in the military training that L.T. has learned and that he teaches Hallam and his other students. The violence is not quite as graphic as WE WERE SOLDEIRS or SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, however. THE HUNTED also contains a modestly significant amount of foul language, including some strong obscenities and profanities, and some environmentalist and anti-hunter elements.
Thus, MOVIEGUIDE® advises extreme caution.
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(C, B, E, PC, LL, VVV, A, D, M) Light Christian worldview with light moral elements, extreme violence, anti-war sentiments, and some environmentalist elements, including soldier suffering severe battle trauma starts slaughtering hunters to protect animals, also movie takes the politically-correct side of the Muslims in Kosovo battle scenes; about 15 obscenities, including some "f" words, two strong profanities and two light profanities; extreme violence, such as brutal knife fights with blood, intense battle scenes with explosions and with Serbian soldiers shooting civilians to death, American soldier slits Serbian commander's throat and face, horrible screams of two hunters heard as insane soldier attacks and kills them off screen, images of hunters' severed arms and legs, knife hits policeman in the neck and causes blood to spurt, another policeman attacked and his dead body is shown later from afar with blood on his white shirt, another dead body drips blood, fight in military van causes van to crash and killer soldier to escape, man falls into waterfall rapids and eventually swims to shore, hero chases antagonist onto speeding bus, and military training shown where instructor tells soldiers how to stab victims in arm, throat, heart, and lungs; no sex; no nudity; and, alcohol use, including man says he's fallen off the wagon; smoking; and miscellaneous problems, such as anti-hunting message.
GENRE: Action Thriller/Police Thriller