William Friedkin’s 2003 thriller The Hunted is not a remarkable film. The movie sees Tommy Lee Jones track rogue assassin Benicio Del Toro who in turn is hunting and killing the most dangerous game of all, man. It’s a potboiler of a thriller for sure but the film distinguishes itself with some heart pounding, visceral fight sequences.
The film’s credits list two knife fight choreographers, Thomas Kier and Rafael Kayanan, both practitioners of the Filipino martial art, Sayoc Kali (The Art of the Blade). Del Toro and Jones worked extensively to ensure the hand-to-hand combat in the film had a realistic and brutal feeling to it. Friedkin pulls no punches in filming these fights and a lot of credit goes to the sound department for making every cut sound suitably squishy.
There are a number of standout fights in this film. At one point Del Toro dispatches two heavily armed agents with nothing but his trusty knife. Jones and Del Toro face-off a couple of times in the film, there’s a good hand-to-hand encounter in a wooded area a little ways into the film that ends with Del Toro taking a sleeping dart to the back. However, The Hunted‘s best sequence comes at the close of the film when all bets are off and the two men must battle it out for survival.
The fight opens as TLJ’s character L.T. Bonham collects himself after falling from a great height. As he turns to stand up he sees Hallam (Del Toro) watching over him, ready to fight. Earlier in the film we see Bonham as mentor to Hallam and the movie has a lot of fun showing off the various survival techniques the men use in the wild. In this encounter Hallam is armed with a knife, Bonham has a sharpened piece of stone.
The fight begins with some nice character work as the men throw pot shots at one another, looking for an in. Friedkin uses some aerial photography to give us a sense of where the characters are positioned. A lot of the knife fighting technique seen in this sequence is about scoring hits on vital areas. At the start of the fight Hallam slashes Bonham’s hand, Bonham counters with a shot to Hallam’s upper arm which is followed by a bit of pro wrestling trickery as Hallam throws blood in his mentor’s eye. Bonham is blinded and Hallam is able to retreat.
The slashing and stabbing becomes increasingly vicious as the fight progresses. One of the aspects of the fight that’s very telling about both characters is their willingness to hurt themselves in order to win. Bonham forces his hand onto his makeshift knife, Hallam willingly takes hits and so on.
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The fight culminates in a vicious series of stabbings, Bonham appears to be outmatched when a combination of stabs to the stomach result in Hallam’s knife being jammed through Bonham’s bicep. However, Bonham’s lack of self preservation prevails as he pulls the knife out of the wound and counters with a thrust and slash of his own. Hallam is fatally injured and Bonham returns to his life of solitude somewhere in Alaska, all’s well that ends well.
The Hunted is by no means a great film, however, as I’ve outlined it is a great film when it comes to crazy knife fights. It’s always encouraging to see actors and directors take an interest in the authenticity of their action sequences, so, kudos to Friedkin, Jones, Del Toro and their choreographers for crafting some of the greatest fights in modern movie memory.
Featured image credit: modernsurvivalonline.com