Shoot To Kill (aka Deadly Pursuit) is a spectacularly suspenseful, beautifully scenic thriller that knows how to stage action set pieces like nobody’s business. It’s also famous for the return of Sydney Poitier to acting after a near decade long hiatus, but that aside it’s just a crackling great film on its own. Part adventure, part chase flick, part psycho thriller, it could even serve as a nature documentary for all the breathtaking shots of Canadian Pacific Northwest wilderness. Poitier plays a big city cop who is on the trail of a homicidal, hellbent jewel thief who has covered his tracks by disappearing amongst a team of hikers venturing out into the mountains. Poitier is obligated to use the services of expert mountain man Tom Berenger to find the party before things inevitably get violent, and take down the maniac for good. He has his own stake in it as his girlfriend (Kirstie Alley) is the group’s guide. It’s a tense guessing game to see which one of the hikers eventually reveals himself as the killer, and since they’re all played by hard-cases like Richard Masur, Clancy Brown and Andy Robinson, it’s a gleeful toss up. Poitier and Berenger naturally butt heads, and it’s funny to see the straight city slicker and gruff outdoorsman archetypes clash. They pursue the killer up the Oregon belt and into the Cascade Mountains, eventually arriving in my hometown of Vancouver which actually gets to play itself for once instead of doubling for some yankee burg. This one holds up great and hasn’t lost a bit of its edge in the years since it came out. Tough, rugged, brutal but gorgeous piece of large scale thriller cinema.
William Friedkin’s The Hunted is the kind of blunt, ruggedly visceral, artery slicing action picture we should be seeing more of in modern times. Where in other films there’s car chases, shootouts and the man to man violence is impossibly elaborate, Friedkin goes primal here, with knife fights that cut to the basics of the human body and its movements, fight scenes that make us wince because we can feel each jab and tear, as the camera dives in close to give us a dose of intimate adrenaline. While the story is simple enough, there’s a haunted complexity to Benicio Del Toro as a highly trained ex marine who has lost his mind. Someone with that skill set is a dangerous person when they go off the rails, and soon this traumatized warrior is hunting people for sport in the Washington rainforest. The only one who can track and possibly stop him is his former Lieutenant and trainer, played with earnest frankness by Tommy Lee Jones. The flashback scenes of Del Toro’s training are very matter of fact, as Jones shows him, without emotion or bias, how to wound or kill another human being in the most efficient way possible. This has made him into a deadly weapon, but they never took his psyche into account, which has run amok. I love action films set in the gorgeous Pacific Northwest region (see Shoot To Kill with Tom Berenger, another great one) where I live, the scenery takes on a lush, mossy personality of it’s own here. The latter half of the film is purely just Jones hunting Del Toro through the Northern wilderness, each using their skills, setting booby traps, reading the terrain until the eventual bloody confrontation. When I say bloody, I mean just that ; Their knife fight is some of the best close quarters action I’ve ever seen, and will have you shielding your major organs as you watch them slice and slash. Friedkin here acts the same way Michael Mann operates with his gunfight sequences: they both understand that less is more with these types of set pieces, to not go overboard and throw all the cards in (John Woo does this, but with grace and style), but to let the action be realistic, impactful in it’s pacing and land with the real threat and consequences of violence instead of screaming overkill. If this film has come out in the 70’s or 80’s like the vibe it exudes, it would have had one of those beautifully hand drawn vintage posters. There should be a criterion edition or some sort of boutique release that revamps the artwork and provides the ultimate DVD package for this film, because it’s one of the finest action movies ever made.