The Hunted

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There is a lot of stabbing in “The Hunted.” I think it may be the stabbingest movie I’ve ever seen. If the film were called “Stabby McStabberton, the Guy Who Stabs People,” I doubt it would have any more stabbing than it already does.

But I am being petty. Let’s not forget that, issues of stabbing aside, “The Hunted” is also noteworthy for being a very mediocre film!

Tragically, it was directed by William Friedkin, who gave us “The French Connection” (1971) and “The Exorcist” (1973). The 30 years between then and now have apparently deadened his senses to what makes a film visually exciting, and to what makes a story compelling. “The Hunted” is grossly insignificant, and unworthy of the man who once had genius in him.

Eh, but it was written by David and Peter Griffiths, the brothers who wrote last year’s stupid Schwarzenegger vehicle “Collateral Damage.” So what can you do?

Anyway, Tommy Lee Jones and his eyebrow play L.T. Bonham, a tracker and wildlife preservationist who once contracted for the government to teach soldiers how to kill people in hand-to-hand combat. He’s so good at tracking, he knows which friend has come to visit just by looking at his footprints in the snow, and he spends his days in remote British Columbia, helping animals who have been caught in traps, rescuing kittens from trees, that sort of thing. He is officially retired from tracking people.

In time-honored movie fashion, though, he is brought out of retirement when a former colleague arrives bearing gruesome photos of a madman’s handiwork. The madman, Aaron Hallam (Benicio Del Toro), was trained to kill by Bonham himself. Having been traumatized in Kosovo, where he was an assassin for our side, he has now begun killing hunters in the woods outside Portland, Ore. (If you’ve ever been to Portland, you know the locals love their greenery and do not take kindly to shellshocked veterans stalking through it, murdering at will.) Bonham, naturally, is the ONLY MAN! who can track him and find him.

Predictably, it becomes a deadly game of cat and mouse, with Hallam regularly escaping capture as Bonham chases him through the woods and through downtown Portland itself. I am somewhat intrigued by the clever use of the city as a venue for pursuit, as Hallam uses public transportation, traffic and bridges to evade Bonham, but that only lasts for so long before it’s the standard one-guy-running-after-another routine again.

Below the surface, there are only hints and innuendoes of complexity. The film observes that the military creates killing machines like Hallam, but says nothing about it. Even “First Blood” (1982), which was far from deep but had the exact same plot, gave Sylvester Stallone a monologue in which to express his frustration at having been made into a monster by his government.

Jones is his typical dogged self, relentlessly pursuing his quarry and not caring if he himself lives or dies. For reasons I cannot comprehend, Friedkin allows Jones to be shot frequently in close-up, I guess so we can see all the crags, wrinkles and misplaced hairs 20 feet high. Del Toro, for his part, is expressionless and feeble, hardly the cold, calculating killer the film wants him to be.

There is a good story somewhere in all this, with the men who are part human, part animal chasing each other through a city that is part civilized, part forest. But even symbolism as simple as that escapes this gratuitously gory, uninteresting film.

C (1 hr., 34 min.; R, some harsh profanity, abundant blood and violence.)

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