Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process, he doesn't become a monster. That Nietzsche spins a good quote, but can you hang an entire movie on it? Maybe...
Soldier Aaron Hallam (Benicio Del Toro) is a shadowy killing machine who may be stuck on overdrive after a bloodbath tour in Kosovo. Zip ahead a few years when a tormented Hallam goes AWOL and possibly rogue, with the only one who can find his trail and bring him in (or sanction him, if need be) being LT Bonham (Tommy Lee Jones), the military advisor who trained him.
Directed with immediacy by William Friedkin, this is one long chase movie by the man who put together that chase in The French Connection. Friedkin also ensures the action and violence is served raw, wrenching the gut in a manner that most Hollywood slug-fests wouldn't dare to do.
However, the emotional battle of wills doesn't have the same punch. Writers Peter and David Griffiths craft an outline of Hallam that's way too ambiguous for the audience to grasp, and Jones' LT is a mumbling mess (when Connie Nielsen's FBI agent tries to question him about his past, he suffers more jitters than Keith Richards on a three-day detox). Okay, so this tremulous persona makes a pleasant change from Tommy Lee's rough, gruff Marshal Sam Gerard in The Fugitive and US Marshals, but you can't help thinking that's why he's timid: to try to distract from The Hunted's borrowings.
Of course, Friedkinwould argue that he's wallowing in the same murky waters he waded with Rules Of Engagement, but this swirling bleariness muddies the performances beyond recognition. Academy Award winners Del Toro and Jones are, with few exceptions, running, violent automatons like the androids in Westworld, and the gorgeous Nielsen is as drab as a seaside town in November.
The whole thing's also too clinical, with everyone going about their business like they're selling insurance. Who knows, this may be the way these spooks do things, but it's scarcely exciting to watch.
The visceral violence is razor sharp, but the slogging story exhibits nothing like the same edge. The cast is also subdued, taking the thrill out of the hunt.