"The Hunted" opens with a verse spoken by Johnny Cash about God telling Abraham to prepare himself to kill his son. We see aging L.T. Bonham (Tommy Lee Jones), alone in his log cabin in the Canadian Rockies, tracking blood in the snow until he comes to a wolf, caught in a snare trap. We know L.T. is good because he unties the wolf and then chokes the trapper with his own snare. The film then cuts to Kosovo, 1999, when a Serb general directing the massacre of an entire village is ambushed in turn by American army sergeant Aaron Hallam (Benicio Del Toro) who, not bothering to shoot him from a distance - he is a perfect target - instead clambers through the carnage to get next to him, and then guts him with a knife. This plus the fact that director William Friedkin ("The French Connection," "The Exorcist") has inserted a little girl into the scene, who wanders about to find a teddy bear under a corpse, gives us an idea of how far-fetched he is going to make this whole film.
Cut to the present day, the coast range in Oregon, where Hallam kills two high-tech hunters, presumably because they used big scopes on their rifles. Not only does he kill them, he guts and quarters them like game. So it's time to call in L.T., who it turns out trained Hallam to be a merciless killer, and now must track him down for the FBI.
Connie Nielsen is the FBI's Special Agent In Charge of the case, but she is always a step behind both Aaron and L.T., who manage to stalk each other through a tour of the northwest: downtown Portland, a coastal rain forest, a raging waterfall - did I mention that Aaron leaps from the top of Portland's drawbridge over the Willamette River, and survives handily, then swims what appears to be upstream fifty miles to the waterfall, with L.T. hot on his trail. There's even time for Aaron to build a fire by rubbing sticks together, making it hot enough to turn an iron bar white hot so that he can forge a knife out of it, while L.T., not to be outdone, chips himself his own knife out of some handy stone nearby.
The film was shot by the magnificent Caleb Deschanel ("The Black Stallion," "The Right Stuff," "The Natural," "Anna and the King"), who knows how to make even the trashiest story look good, and this is as trashy as they get. Jones is his usual understated self - we see how uncomfortable he is indoors by the twitching of his hands as he stands in Nielsen's office - and he has had experience with this kind of work before, notably in "The Fugitive." Del Toro adopts his odd "Usual Suspects" voice, eliding every other word so that we have no sense of a human being inside the mannerism. The film is 94 minutes long, of which about 80 are the chase and the repeated hand-to-hand combat scenes between Jones and Del Toro. It does get wearing.