- The Washington Times - Friday, March 14, 2003

"The Hunted" fails to elude the pitfalls of the misbegotten while engineering mortal showdowns between Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio Del Toro, respectively cast as hard-shelled mentor and haunted, wayward pupil.
Mr. Jones' character is L.T. Bonham. A former Special Forces hand-to-hand combat instructor, he learns that Aaron Hallam, the homicidal basket case assigned to Mr. Del Toro, has been terrorizing hunters around Portland, Ore.
Flushed out working as a game warden in the Pacific Northwest wilderness, intent on rescuing a white wolf from an insidious trap, Bonham consents to return from his snowy retreat to pick up the trail of a killer at the scene of his crimes. A prologue already has failed to clarify the source of Hallam's turmoil, although he's discovered on a Delta Force mission during the American intervention in Kosovo, stalking and then killing a Serbian commander who has been supervising slaughters in a mosque.
If this stealthy act justifies a troubled conscience, it's difficult to see why on the face of things. Evidently, there were no psychological supports within the military itself we're led to believe that Bonham ignored a set of letters written by Hallam, but these purported distress signals remain a red herring rather than an adequate motivation.
Anyway, the potential for mockery starts to accumulate when Bonham arrives near Portland and recoils at the spectacle of comely FBI agent Abby Durrell (Connie Nielsen) and her contingent already conducting a woodlands dragnet. He prefers to work alone on untainted scents. He advises the mob to retire and sets off like a bloodhound to track Hallam, still lurking in the immediate vicinity in camouflage gear and makeup.
Without further ado, they launch into a preliminary knife fight. Darned if it isn't a good thing that Miss Nielsen's character disregarded the stand-down request. A tranquilizer dart from an FBI sharpshooter disables Hallam moments before he can strike a lethal blow at Bonham. No explanation about how the regular security crowd managed to track such proud and solitary adepts so easily, but the humor of it all will not be lost on observant spectators.
To prevent the movie from becoming a short subject, Hallam eludes custody in Portland, provoking mayhem in a police van that subsequently crashes, permitting his escape, battered but still elusive and deadly.
There's another beguiling miscalculation in the aftermath: The camera singles out a TV reporter who gushes, "Access is very limited." Come again? The reporter is standing about three feet from the overturned van, although behind a yellow streamer that theoretically creates a boundary around the accident site. Evidently, police up that way don't require much elbow room while attending to the injured or investigating a car crash.
Mr. Jones and Miss Nielsen, warming to each other under the influence of adversity, appear close to recapturing Mr. Del Toro at the home of his former mistress (whose little girl seems very fond of the fugitive), but he dives out a window, and the chase is on again. The next phase exploits residential and downtown Portland and includes a stretch of bumper-car pursuit and a sequence on a commuter train that obviously is meant to evoke Gene Hackman's frenzied car chase in director William Friedkin's first hit, "The French Connection."
The only beneficiary of the runaround on the rails is likely to be a real-life Portland TV personality named Jeff Gianola, who is gaudily promoted on the facade of the cars. "Who is Jeff Gianola?" the ads ask. A master of product placement in a ramshackle thriller, one is compelled to reply.
The downtown chase supposedly culminates when Hallam leaps into the Willamette River from the top of a bridge. The movie's pictorial and kinetic impact has grown so ragtag by that juncture that the plunge turns out to be another letdown. Evidently, it couldn't be performed or simulated from an optimum breathtaking perspective.
The scene shifts back to the wilderness, where hunter and prey must hew emergency knives out of available material in a matter of seconds in order to face off for a concluding struggle. I could swear I saw Mr. Jones' character disabled by several wounds. I even got the alarming impression that he was about to have his right arm severed. Miraculously, he seems to outlast the demented younger guy.
The nature of this rivalry makes a strong case for preferring Miss Nielsen and the agents who work out of an office. At the fade-out, it appears that she has rejected a fleeting invitation from Mr. Jones to come up and visit his snowbound cabin sometime, but it's a comfort to see that the white wolf he saved is still in the neighborhood. When you get right down to it, he has done more favors for the wolf than the leading lady.

*1/2
TITLE: "The Hunted"
RATING: R (Occasional graphic violence, with gruesome illustrative details; depictions of wartime atrocities; fleeting profanity)
CREDITS: Directed by William Friedkin. Screenplay by David Griffiths, Peter Griffiths and Art Monterastelli.
RUNNING TIME: 94 minutes

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