With all its relentless and rather dull chase sequences, where the fleeing Hallam seems to keep slowing down in order to allow Bonham to catch up, ‘The Hunted’ is doomed always to be one step behind the quality it so clearly pursues. Director William Friedkin, who is deservedly celebrated for ‘The French Connection’ and ‘The Exorcist’, but also responsible for films like ‘Jade’, here tries hard to elevate his material by referencing other, better films. Thus the first sign that Hallam is going over the edge is an image of his upturned, haunted face bathed in halflight, in a clear visual allusion to cinema’s best known special ops killer turned renegade loony, Colonel Kurtz from ‘Apocalypse Now’; and the casting of Tommy Lee Jones as pursuer, plus a scene involving an escape from an overturned prison vehicle, hold out the promise of a ‘Fugitive’-style complexity where both hunter and hunted command the viewer’s sympathies at the same time. Yet Hallam lacks the gravitas of Kurtz; and unlike the falsely accused doctor in ‘The Fugitive’, Hallam is a vicious serial killer, played by del Toro as an automaton rather than as a real character with whom the viewer can identify. He is even described, in a cliche that has lain dormant since the 80s, as ‘a killing machine’.
In the end, the biggest influence on ‘The Hunted’ is ‘First Blood’, with its fights in the forest, improvised traps, and its seemingly unstoppable soldier pursued by a concerned trainer. Except that the murderous Hallam, far from being a victim of smalltown prejudice like Rambo, is himself the one who draws first blood (and lots of it). If only we could sympathise with Hallam in the way both he and Bonham seem to sympathise with hunted animals, then this film would have a chance of engaging our interest; but as it stands, the whole length of ‘The Hunted’ is merely a tedious deferral of the inevitable confrontation.
The knife fight when it finally comes is the most visceral and bloody that you are ever likely to see on screen; too bad, then, that by that time the viewer has long lost the ability to care less who wins.
Oh, and one last thing: if Bonham is so against hunting, why is there a trophy set of antlers hanging on the outside of his cabin?