A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
"The Hunted" is a pure and rather inspired example of the one-on-one chase movie. Like "The Fugitive," which also starred Tommy Lee Jones, it's about one man pursuing another more or less nonstop for the entire film. Walking in, I thought I knew what to expect, but i didn't anticipate how William Friedkin would jolt me with the immediate urgency of the action. This is not an arm's-length chase picture, but a close physical duel between its two main characters. Jones plays L.T. Bonham, a civilian employee of the U.S. Army who trains elite forces to stalk, track, hunt and kill. His men learn how to make weapons out of shards of rock, and forge knives from scrap metal. In a sequence proving we haven't seen everything yet, they learn how to kill an enemy by the numbers--leg artery, heart, neck, lung. That Jones can make this training seem real goes without saying; he has an understated, minimalist acting style that implies he's been teaching the class for a long time.
One of his students is Aaron Hallam (Benicio Del Toro), who fought in Kosovo in 1999 and had experiences there that warped him ("his battle stress has gone so deep it is part of his personality"). Back home in Oregon, offended by hunters using telescopic sights, he claims four victims--"those hunters were filleted like deer." Bonham recognizes the style and goes into the woods after him ("If I'm not back in two days, that will mean I'm dead").
Hallam's stress syndrome has made him into a radical defender of animal rights; he talks about chickens on assembly lines, and asks one cop how he'd feel if a higher life form were harvesting mankind. Of course, in killing the hunters, he has promoted himself to that superior lifeform, but this is not a movie about debate points. It is a chase.
No modern director is more identified with chases that Friedkin, whose "The French Connection" and "To Live and Die in L.A." set the standard. Here the whole movie is a chase, sometimes at a crawl, as when Hallam drives a stolen car directly into a traffic jam. What makes the movie fresh is that it doesn't stand back and regard its pursuit as an exercise, but stays very close to the characters and focuses on the actual physical reality of their experience.