Tension-free game of cat and mouse. Stick with Tom & Jerry.
Kosovo during wartime isn't a nice place to work, but it's where a U.S. Special Forces team find themselves to take out a genocidal warlord amidst a NATO pyrotechnical bombing raid. Aaron Hallam (Benicio Del Toro) channels Solid Snake, infiltrating the base and 'offing' the baddy with some sterling knife work amid the piles of dead Albanians. From this act we gather that Hallam is not a man to be trifled with. He is awarded the Silver Star in recognition of his skill and bravery, but the screams of the dying haunt his days. To his credit at least at the outset Del Toro has a stab at showing the man torn apart by his experiences, hampered only by director of the hugely overrated The Exorcist William Friedkin having echoed screams reverb around the cinema to pound home exactly what's bothering the poor guy when silence may have been more effective.
Meanwhile, L.T. Bonham (Tommy Lee Jones) is happily wandering about the wilderness freeing wolves from snares under the employ of the Wildlife Commission. It's not too long before an army general contacts him telling him that Hallam has gone AWOL, and his mind seems to have gone AWOL too. He seems to be stalking and killing hunters in an Oregon wood, and they want Bonham to take the ever-reliable One Last Job clich? to assist the FBI in tracking him down. <Movie Trailer guy voice> Bonham trained him. Bonham knows how he operates. Only Bonham can take him down.</Movie Trailer guy voice>
So Bonham heads South, single handedly tracks him down allowing the F.B.I to tranquillise him and take him in. Seeing as it's only been about half an hour or so into the film, his escape is as inevitable as it is ridiculous. He vanishes into the cityscape, which Bonham previously pointedly describes as a wilderness, and Bonham has to accept Another One Last Job to track him down again. It's like getting the sequel as part of the main feature.
It's a great pity that the good ideas here are never capitalised on. During Bonham's training of Hallam, he was looked on as a father figure by the young trainee, possibly because of his fine moustache. After recognising that his grip on sanity was loosening, Hallam started writing to Bonham for help, asking him to help deal with the ruthless killer in him that Bonham was responsible for creating. Bonham ignored these letters, and now has to deal with him in a more terminal way.
Bonham himself never joint he army after his father barred that path following the loss of his brother in Vietnam. As such, despite being a expert in survival and in the fine art of stabbing, Bonham has never killed a man. This is supposed, I guess, to make us question whether or not Bonham could go through with the act should it (frankly inevitably, now he's mentioned it) come up, but it ended up suggesting 'yup, no problem, just haven't had to yet.' Generally Tommy Lee Jones puts in a performance best described as workmanlike, which is really all the film deserves.
But these ideas are largely ignored and only briefly mentioned in favour of a great deal of running around though parks, trains and sewers. Every FBI agent in the vicinity is after Hallam, and the only ones that get within a ten foot radius of him are swiftly killed, normally because the highly trained agents are so shocked and distracted by a dead body allowing Hallam to casually gut them like a fish. It falls to nominally crack FBI agent Abby Durrell (Connie Nielsen) to take over the reigns and try and bring him in, but at end of the day she does little more than cheer from the sidelines as Bonham goes off and does his own elite tracker thang.
It ends in the woods, after both parties take a few hours out to fashion knives out of sticks and stones and reforged scrap-iron. Real men make their own weapons, see, and like their killin' up close and personal. Del Toro normally looks and acts like someone who has just woken up after a night on the sauce, but it's normally quirky and effective. Here it's just strange, different and generally unconvincing. Perhaps if it had been handled a little differently we may have taken his paranoid assertions that the hunters were sent specifically to take him down a little more seriously, but given his overplayed edginess Del Toro may as well have worn his underpants on his head and stuck pencils up his nose rather than act as he does here.
It all boils down to a mano-a-mano fight between master and apprentice, with both men showing a quite remarkable resiliency. A pity it's remarkable because it's so ridiculous, as Bonham happily swims and runs about after shaking off being staked in the thigh, and even puts up a good fight after being stabbed and sawed through his arm. Still, real men pay no attention to wounds and I don't think it's much of a shock to learn that Bonham survives to free wolves another day.
The problem with this film is that all the interesting bits are either ignored or glossed over. If there had been some more time spent on Bonham and Hallam's relationship during training, it may have worked better. As it is, we are shown a few scenes of Bonham showing Hallam the best way to knife people that would presumably have been common with every trainee. Why then an I to believe they share a special bond of some sort? Similarly the mission that Hallam totally lost control and his sanity on is mentioned in passing, but might have made the film a lot more effective were it shown.
As such, the chase is never that satisfying, and neither is its conclusion. To his credit Friedkin does everything correctly, the pacing is reasonable, the action solid and well shot. It turns out not to matter, the central characters didn't have much else to hold any attention and so despite trying I never really invested much emotion in either characters plight.
As an aside some people seem to have it in their tiny little heads that this film is in some way about animal cruelty because he offs a few hunters and talks about animals hunting. This is a stupid thing to think. He kills the hunters because he's bonkers and he talks about animal tracks and hunting because that's what Bonham is doing to him. Here endeth the lesson.
Perhaps this is a touch harsh on the film, but it really wasn't particularly thrilling and mediocrity on this level shouldn't be rewarded. It's not greatly original but manages to avoid many of the genre pitfalls or end up being The Fugitive 4: The One Armed Man Strikes Back, but I'm afraid I didn't much care one way or the other how it ended. There are certainly worse films, but many better too.
Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 2/5 TippyMarks.
Benicio Del Toro (Aaron Hallam)
Connie Nielsen (Abby Durrell)