The Hunted

reviewed by Steve Sailer

The American Conservative, April 7, 2003


There's an article of faith among Republican pundits that everyone in Hollywood is a pacifist feminist wimp. Yet, you sure wouldn't guess that from going to the movies lately. For example, "The Hunted," starring Tommy Lee Jones, is the most primordial blood and guts action movie about an aging Special Operations warrior named "L.T." who must fight his way out of the woods since well, since last week's "Tears of the Sun" with Bruce Willis.

With daily life becoming ever more gentrified, selling manly fantasies to white-collar guys who spend their days typing may be America's most lucrative business. The entertainment industry churns out such blatant he-man stuff, though, that it frequently feels the need to slather a glaze of liberal piety over the red meat.

"The Hunted" is aimed at a huge market underserved by recent films: the tens of millions of men interested in hunting. Jones, largely reprising his Academy Award-winning character from "The Fugitive," plays an expert woodland tracker living alone in a cabin deep in the mountains.

Tracking -- following the bent grass and broken twigs left by passing prey -- is an intriguing skill, but veteran wild man director William Friedkin ("The French Connection") never quite comes up with a visual vocabulary to show how trackers operate out at the edge of perceptibility. More impressive is how cinematographer Caleb Deschanel ("The Black Stallion") captures Oregon's gorgeous and creepy temperate rain forest.

Hunting was a popular subject for books and movies back in Hemingway's era, but nowadays you can't show your hero shooting Bambi. So, Jones' tracker doesn't employ his skills to guide hunters, but to save lovely white wolves from evil trappers.

How can the film simultaneously take an ostensible stand against hunting and appeal to that ancient male predatory instinct? Easy. Jones and costar Benicio Del Toro (an Oscar winner for "Traffic") must hunt each other. This squeamishness about shedding animal blood therefore means that "The Hunted" winds up with human blood squirting every which way.

The plot is minimal. Jones has a past: he once taught survival and knife-fighting skills to Army assassins. Del Toro was his best student, a West Virginian with a genius for evasion.

After infiltrating Kosovo and slaughtering Serbian ethnic cleansers (very much like Willis in "Tears"), Del Toro came down with post-traumatic nightmares. So, now he stalks deer hunters who use unfair amounts of technology and murders them with a knife he forged over a campfire. The FBI calls in Jones to track Del Toro through the forest. Jones demonstrates he's even freer than Del Toro of industrial taint by chipping his knife from a rock, as if he were a Cro-Magnon commando.

The quality of both "The Hunted" and "Tears of the Sun" may have been beaten down by the physical drubbing their casts and crews endured while filming in wet wildernesses.

At least everyone on "The Hunted" survived the punishing outdoor shoot, which is more than you can say for "Tears," where a stuntman died. Del Toro, though, broke his wrist badly during a knife fight with Jones, and production had to halt for over half a year.

The 56-year-old Jones, who was Al Gore's Harvard roommate, looks like he needed a jumbo bottle of Advil to get through the fight scenes, but more respect to him.

As the hillbilly running amok, Del Toro (who is the scion of a family of Puerto Rican lawyers) is horribly miscast. I don't know what accent he's attempting (maybe Montgomery Clift on Demerol), but it's never been heard in a holler. Further, his dark, soft looks and fleshy features aren't exactly right for a Scots-Irish mountaineer maniac.

Film isn't theatre. Movie actors have to look right in their close-ups. Why did the filmmakers set their star up for embarrassment? They could have changed a line in the script and made Del Toro, say, a French Canadian fur trapper from Maine. Or, better yet, simply avoided the whole subject.

It's not as if the killer's background is crucial to the story. In fact, there's virtually no cause-and-effect plot. "The Hunted" is simply a series of intensifying action set pieces, like ever-higher stages in a video game.

Several passages are Friedkin's homages to his own most famous scenes, such as Gene Hackman pursuing the elevated train in "The French Connection" or the traffic jam chase in "Too Live and Die in LA." Indeed, I was rather expecting Del Toro's head to spin around like Linda Blair's in "The Exorcist."

Two female characters intermittently intrude in this man's world. One's your usual skinny FBI agent with a big gun. The other actress keeps loudly over-emphasizing the word "ain't." (Imagine Christine Baranski auditioning to play Elly May Clampett.) I guess she's just a girl who cain't say ain't.

Rated R for strong bloody violence and some language.


Steve Sailer ( is a columnist for and the film critic for The American Conservative.


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