Big Game review

A huge surprise in the woods today...

GamesRadar+ Verdict

Drags in places and not always certain of its tone but with a sprinkling of eye-bulging visuals that wink to Spielberg’s heyday. Give it a shot.

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A huge surprise in the woods today...

For his follow -up to breakout hit Rare Exports, Finnish director Jalmari Helander has gone to Hollywood. Not literally – Big Game is set in Finland, was largely shot in Germany and is not a studio movie – but certainly for inspiration, its (knowingly) cheesy plot looking to blend the ever-popular save-the-President action movie with the style and awe of an ’80s blockbuster.

To mark his 13th birthday, Oskari (Rare Exports’ Onni Tommila) is sent into the forest for 24 hours. He must drop a deer to become a man, only Oskari can barely pull back his bowstring and thus faces the prospect of shaming himself and his rugged father in front of the community’s burly, beardy menfolk.

What he needs is a shot at redemption – and it comes in the unlikely form of the President of the United States (Samuel L. Jackson) when Air Force One is shot out of the sky by terrorists who then pursue him on foot. Yes, Big Game is also a hunt-humans-for-sport movie…

Watch Big Game with a straight face and it’s ridiculous; view it as tongue-in-cheek (and Rare Exports proved that Helander has a wicked sense of humour) and, if not sublime, it’s certainly entertaining. At its best, there’s a Spielbergian wonder to its images, the forest hunched silently under a star-spangled sky, shafts of light prodding through the canopy.

At one point, Oskari transports a blanket-shrouded POTUS on his quad bike (surely a nod to E.T.), while the downed Air Force One blazing through the trees recalls the train wreck in J.J. Abrams’ own love letter to The Beard, Super 8. There’s even an escape in a fridge freezer, though evoking Indy IV might not be the smartest move...

But in-between the set-pieces, Big Game lacks zip. It’s laudable that Helander takes frequent time-outs to hang with his characters and develop his themes (masculinity, fathers and sons, private vs public power) but the movie’s at its strongest when it’s fun, silly and OTT. Regular cutaways to Pentagon folk (Felicity Huffman, Jim Broadbent, Ted Levine) orchestrating a rescue strategy only halt the momentum, while the two main bads, Ray Stevenson’s miffed Secret Service agent and “over-privileged psychopath” Hazar (Mehmet Kurtulus), are cut from cardboard.

Still, it’s good to see Jackson lose his cool. Usually so charismatic and capable, he here plays a pampered wimp who can barely tie his own shoelaces... until he learns to spray bullets and mouth ‘muthafucker’, that is.

More info

Theatrical release8 May 2015
DirectorJalmari Helander
Starring"Onni Tommila","Samuel L. Jackson","Ray Stevenson","Jim Broadbent","Felicity Huffman"
Available platformsMovie
Editor-at-Large, Total Film

Jamie Graham is the Editor-at-Large of Total Film magazine. You'll likely find them around these parts reviewing the biggest films on the planet and speaking to some of the biggest stars in the business – that's just what Jamie does. Jamie has also written for outlets like SFX and the Sunday Times Culture, and appeared on podcasts exploring the wondrous worlds of occult and horror.