In a film very much about combat planning and strategy, the dramatic
ammunition turns out to be a misfire. And, coming from a veteran filmmaker
like John Franhenheimer, there's little excuse for getting the formula wrong.
We're just simply misled about who to root for, ambushed by misplaced
We also get the impression that this film exists because someone thought it
would be boxoffice dynamite to see Tommy Lee Jones tracking a bad guy after
doing it with such admirable relentlessness in "The Fugitive" and "U.S.
Marshalls." That might have proven true if director John Frankenheimer and
writers David and Peter Griffiths, had gotten their dramatic requirements
It starts out fine, showing Aaron Hallam, a decorated CIA assassin of
exemplary skill, going alone into a fortified Bosnia command center to cut up
the military leader who is in charge of ethnically cleansing the defenseless
citizens in a town. For a mission like this, we're certainly on his side.
Forget that he's a laconic killing machine, we're rooting for the guy.
As though to cement that audience bond, we next see him as a civilian,
tracking and killing a pair of hunters who are either hunting a deer with
high-powered rifles or they're really after Hallam. They get theirs at the
hands of our hero, whose skills with a knife and killer instincts are enough
to chill a samurai. The doubt about the hunters' intentions seem to be
cleared up when we learn that the FBI considers Hallan a rogue soldier. They
want him out, disposed of.
So much so, that agent Abby Durrell (Connie Nielsen) recruits L.T. Bonham
(Tommy Lee Jones) to get him. Since Bonham trained Hallam, he would seem to
be the only man who stands a chance against the wit and success of his
unstoppable student. Of course, the student has developed beyond the master,
so the assignment could prove difficult for the ageing toughguy.
In the course of the cat and mouse game between Bonham and Hallam, the latter
kills some innocents and becomes, in our eyes, little more than a meaningless
butcher. No longer is he the man with a mission that we can admire. All his
capital as a principled avenger is spent, and the letdown to our expectations
proves terminal. The tired and relentless Bonham doesn't take up the mantle
of respect or sympathy despite some soft spots in a prickly personality,
which leaves us in an emotional quandary. Who to root for. Who to give a
As the tracked and the tracker move through the scenery of British Columbia
and Oregon forests, we're observing with limited interest in the people and
too much in the settings. Within these refreshing landscapes, the
choreography is stale and stagy and, in that final, inevitable knife match
between the combatants the outcome is entirely arbitrary and difficult to
In an attempt to set up the movie with some higher meaning, singer
Johnny Cash is enlisted to, first, read a biblically oriented narration about
Abraham and Isaac over the opening credits and, then, for two songs in his
gravel voice eloquence. Fans of his will appreciate the contributions.
On the other hand, fans of Del Toro ("Traffic") who've been hungering for a
new role to fulfill his special qualities will need to wait for something
more satisfying down the line.
One of our favorite underutilized actresses, Connie Nielsen ("One Hour Photo", "Gladiator"!) interacts well with
Jones, but it's a wayward inpulse on Frankenheimer's part to allow the
suggestion that there is an attraction between the romantically mismatched
pair. Erase that element and you have a bit of class in her contribution,
though the part, as written, is a struggle for something unique. A challenge
not quite met -- like the movie, itself.
~~ Jules Brenner