Tag: the hunt

Surviving the Game

Surviving the Game (1994)
★★ / ★★★★

“He’s a homeless piece of shit. He’s nothing. He’s less than nothing.”

And so the hunt begins between predators and prey in “Surviving the Game,” an action-thriller directed by Ernest R. Dickerson that could have benefited from a more polished screenplay. There is an idea worth exploring here: the rich, most of them white, literally hunting down a poor black man like an animal in the woods for the sake of “therapy,” entertainment.

As an action picture, its chase sequences are only mildly entertaining. There are only so many ways to show Ice-T, playing Jack Mason, a military veteran who became homeless after the death of his wife and daughter, running away from the highly privileged men who wish to murder him for sport. About halfway through, not even Ice-T’s approach of embedding humor in Mason’s desperation—as if to acknowledge that the plot itself is preposterous—is able to keep the movie afloat. A pattern emerges: Every other scene a hunter drops dread punctuated by our protagonist sustaining a fall or a minor injury only to end up fighting back again. It becomes somewhat of a bore eventually because there is a flatness in how the chases are shot; there is only occasional catharsis to the much-deserved kills.

The screenplay by Eric Bernt is not written sharp enough for the work to be considered an effective satire. For instance, I enjoyed there is one black man (Charles S. Dutton) among the hunters who is the right-hand man of the ringleader (Rutger Hauer). He is not quite the Uncle Tom character, existing to serve his white master, but neither do we get a sense he is a completely independent figure who is above his black identity. Cole is somewhere in between which makes him rather dull. Why have a minority character among the villains when you are not willing to take it all the way so that there is power behind the punchline? It is a waste of a character; imagine this role being played by a white man and there is only minimal difference.

Another missed opportunity: There is a white teenager among the group who is shocked upon the discovery that this is no typical hunting trip. (His father, played by F. Murray Abraham, requires that he be there because his son is “becoming too much like [his] mother.”) This should have been a key character because a) he is white, b) he is outside of the average age group of the group and c) it is not his choice to attend. Derek (William McNamara), like Cole, is written in a middle-of-the-road fashion and so he has nothing to do other than to utter lines showing disapproval. These potentially curious characters are wasted in terms of the big picture, the message that the movie is trying to communicate in regards to race and class in America.

Or is it actually saying something? I marveled at this question somewhere in the middle because none of the balls being juggled in the air are particularly interesting. Surely there is tension during the setup—up until Gary Busey’s scene-stealing performance where his psychiatrist character, also one of the hunters, explains to Mason why he considers the scar under his eye to be a birthmark—but the latter half is a drag for the most part. For a story that promises thrills and excitement, I witnessed a lack of energy and craft.

The Hunt

The Hunt (2020)
★★ / ★★★★

Make no mistake that “The Hunt” is provocative only on the surface: liberal elites kidnap supporters of the right-wing to be hunted and killed for sport. Twenty minutes into its cheeky violence and mayhem, I found myself still looking for good reasons for its existence. Trigger words like “deplorables” and “snowflakes” are thrown about like candy, but its ideas are not explored in meaningful ways. Here is a picture with energy but little substance, daring to take on a political stance but only willing to slap the wrists of both liberals and conservatives instead of hammering a rusty nail into their skulls. Satire-lite almost always never works in the movies.

It is a shame because Betty Gilpin is highly watchable as a hunted southerner whose mission is to kill every single person running the sick game. Her interpretation of Crystal is athletic and efficient in action; she may not be a talker but she is smart and quick-witted; and she is able to offer a few surprises when others attempt to get to know her. Although a formidable heroine, the screenplay by Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof surrounds Crystal with boring characters—enemies and allies alike—who are meant to be murdered just as swiftly as they’re introduced. (Familiar faces include Emma Roberts, Justin Hartley, Glenn Howerton, and Ike Barinholtz.)

The point, I guess, is that we are supposed to be shocked or horrified by the rather quick deaths, but when every single one is meant to have the same fate, it is inevitable that the approach suffers from diminishing returns. Despite the film’s ninety-minute running time, the middle section lags and drags. The joke surrounding the idiom, “Never judge a book by its cover” is highly repetitive to the point where we can figure out how a scene will work out exactly based on a new face’s overall appearance. How’s that for irony?

The mixture of satire and cartoonish violence does not work in this instance. I think it is due to the fact that nearly every aspect is given a tongue-in-cheek approach. And so we never take the material seriously. The thing is, the most effective satires tend to take the viewer on a wild rollercoaster ride. Slower moments, for example, allow us to stop and consider messages behind the obvious. The best ones inspire us to look within, to recognize and admit our own hypocrisies.

During its anti-climatic climax, when not feeling sorry for someone of Hilary Swank’s caliber simply chewing scenery in this mediocrity, I stopped to consider that perhaps director Craig Zobel shaped the movie with non-stop action precisely because he recognizes that there is nothing much to bite into. We are inundated, distracted by movement and loud noises. Discerning viewers will see through the charade. This is not to suggest, however, that “The Hunt” is without potential. The screenplay is still undercooked and reluctant. With a bit of daring, it could have turned into an entirely different beast worthy of buzz, controversy, and perhaps even censure from all sides of the political spectrum. I would rather have seen that movie.

The Hunt

The Hunt (2012)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Still reeling from divorce, Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen), a former teacher, moved back to the small town he grew up in and has found a job as a kindergarten aide. All is relatively well considering his situation: there is a possibility that Lucas’ son (Lasse Fogelstrøm) might eventually come to live with him and there is a fellow aide (Alexandra Rapaport) who wants to get to know him outside of work. However, when one of the students, Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), tells the lead staff that—essentially—she has been sexually molested by Lucas, the close-knit community turns against the man they thought they knew and loved.

If this film had been a lesser screenplay, the story would have revolved around the issue of whether or not the main character had touched the little girl. By providing us enough evidence that Lucas is likely to be innocent, the material has more time to focus on a more important issue: the way a community responds to an accusation and how word-of-mouth twists, bends, and distorts reality. “Jagten,” written by Tobias Lindholm and Thomas Vinterberg, is fascinating because it is about real people responding to a real issue.

I was able to relate to the film on several levels because I have worked with children. Prior to starting the job, the city ensures that one is aware of the dangers of working with minors, how one should respond if a child talks about certain transgressions, and what should be done if a situation does occur. Fact: Minors can initiate inappropriate behavior. Pages of packets are handed out to be read and signed. Does this mean one is ready for the responsibility just because the paperwork has been put away? This is why I was fascinated with one particular supporting character, Grethe (Susse Wold), the lead staff in the facility.

I admired how the material is willing to show people being flawed. It is easy to blame Grethe for handling the situation poorly. After all, isn’t she supposed to be a professional? But dealing with a sensitive situation—attempting to protect the children but at the same time trying not to judge her co-worker without enough evidence or time to think things through—it is tougher than it looks. It is without a doubt that her weak leadership makes everything that much worse for Lucas, but I think the character is very relevant in that a lot of people do succumb to the panic and tough responsibilities when things get rough. It is not only Grethe who makes terrible miscalculations.

To cast Mikkelsen in the role is a smart decision. Collectively, his face, stance, and presence oozes villainy. Though there is no evidence of child molestation, sometimes I wondered, “But what if he really did it?” Here, we empathize with the character. Mikkelsen does not reduce Lucas into a wilting thing when the community tries to get rid of him. He summons an increasing silent rage, mixed with the right amount of disappointment and sadness, which culminates in two scenes: inside a supermarket and a church.

It takes an interesting detour. At some point, Lucas’ son, Marcus, drops by for a visit. He gets to experience and understand what his father deals with on an every day basis: the “sin” of the father is bore by the son. I liked how the father-son relationship is depicted. Although there are not many scenes that show just the two of them together, they make an impact. We get a feeling that they do love one another. When the other is hurt, the other bears some of the pain—sometimes it is even amplified.

Directed by Thomas Vinterberg, “The Hunt” is a very human story but the title may not suggest that—at least at first glance. It implies that the hunt is an animal to be shot, cooked, and shared. It is the perfect title because once the accusation is out there, Lucas is no longer a man in the eyes of the community. To them, he has become an animal—a predator—and animals are treated as less than.