Aaron Hallam (Benicio Del Toro) is one of the best assassins the Special Forces has ever seen but it seems "battle stress" has gotten the better of him. Taking off into the Oregon woods he dismembers four so-called hunters with his specially made knife in a short period of time quickly becoming public enemy No. 1. Hallam's expertise as a trained hunter far surpasses anything the FBI has had to deal with and frankly Special Agent Abby Durrell (Connie Nielsen) is in over her head. Enter L.T. Bonham (Tommy Lee Jones) a survivalist and tracking expert who once trained Hallam in the art of killing. When checking out the crime scene L.T. knows immediately who the culprit is. In fact Aaron had written letters to Bonham pleading for help as he began to slip over the edge of sanity but fighting his own demons L.T. ignored the pleas. Now the trainer feels responsible for the way things have turned out (well duh) and has to stop his former student. Or at least die trying.
In The Hunted Jones simply elaborates on the bounty hunter character he so indelibly created in The Fugitive. He is a little longer in the tooth this time around showing more conflicted emotions on his crinkled stony face. The circles under his eyes look a little more creased sagging with weight of the world. After all L.T. has to reconcile himself to the fact he trained men to become expert killing machines. Del Toro on the other hand initially seems out of place as a trained assassin but quickly proves himself as the tortured and extremely deadly Hallam. The Oscar-winning actor's eyes always have that faraway haunted look and he manages to convey a multileveled character who is more than just another soldier with post-traumatic stress disorder. Nielsen (Mission to Mars) unfortunately gets very little to work with as an FBI agent who can't catch her man. She's proven her mettle in dramas such as One Hour Photo but seems compelled to play the "female" in action flicks.
The Hunted could also be called Fun Things To Do With a Knife. Director William Friedkin pays meticulous attention to details especially when it comes to tracking fugitives and the art of making knives and using them to kill a very personal and intimate way to do someone in. At one point even I started to believe I could go out into the wilderness find an odd piece of metal mold it into a knife over the fire and then neatly dispatch my enemies. The film is too thick to be called an "action" film; watching it is like waiting for the molasses to come out of the bottle. Although interestingly the story doesn't follow a typical pattern of "the hunted" and "the hunter"--the lines are definitely blurred--there's still a tiresome back and forth. Hallam is caught escapes is caught again. Friedkin known for filming extended chase scenes such as in The French Connection and To Live and Die in L.A. uses his expert skills only once in The Hunted when Hallam escapes for a second time. As the wacked-out soldier moves out of the woods and into the city streets with his tracker close behind things pick up; it's exciting and fast-paced but unfortunately short-lived. The action soon moves back into the wilderness and not even the climatic battle of knife skill between the two main characters can raise the pulse.