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THE HUNTER’S PRAYER (2017) review

June 8, 2017

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written by: Paul Leyden and Oren Moverman
produced by: Tove Christensen, James Costas, Paul Leyden, David McIlhargey, Christopher Milburn, Anthony Rhulen, Paul Rock, John Schwarz, Michael Schwarz, Michael Wexler & Sam Worthington
directed by: Jonathan Mostow
rated: R (for violence, drug use and language)
runtime: 91 min.
U.S. release date: June 9, 2017 (limited, Amazon & iTunes)

 

Nearly a decade after his comic book adaptation/sci-fi/Bruce Willis flick “Surrogates” comes “The Hunter’s Prayer”, the latest movie from director Jonathan Mostow. This is the guy who was given the keys to Ahnuld’s Harley with “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” when James Cameron bowed out.  Mostow actually delivered one of the best thrillers of the 90s with “Breakdown” and followed that with a legit WWII submarine flick “U-571”, so it’s not like I’m ready to dismiss a new film from Mostow, but I am surprised since he’s been off my cinematic radar for a while now. His involvement in “The Hunter’s Prayer” was the sole draw for me and as it turns out he shows that he still has a fine handling of the pacing and suspense of an efficient action thriller, but if the director is the only good thing about a movie, then there’s trouble.  

Before the story takes us across France and into the UK, we start out at a border school in Switzerland, where teenager Ella (Odeya RushGoosebumps“) attends class. This introduction tells us that she’s somewhat of a typically rebellious teen, sneaking out for a night on the town with her boyfriend (Eudald Font), when she notices a man following her with his eyes. Next thing she knows, this man is shielding her in a public place while unloading ammo an an unknown assailant across the way. After an intense foot and car chase, the mysterious man reveals himself as Lucas (Sam Worthington), a hired assassin who promises to drive her to safety, far away from the other assassin, Metzler (Martin CompstonThe Disappearance of Alice Creed“), who unbeknownst to Ella has already killed her parents for supposedly hiding twenty million from his boss, Richard Addison (a broad and bland Allen Leech “Downton Abbey”) a powerful businessman in Leeds.

 

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Ella was clearly unaware of her parent’s questionable business dealings and now has no choice but to tag along with Lucas, who’s got his own issues battling a drug addiction while they’re on the run. While Richard utilizes his resources, such as employing a corrupt Interpol agent (Amy Landecker, in a thankless role), to find and kill the girl without incriminating himself, he also goes out of his way to blackmail Lucas into doing the job. When Ella learns Lucas had been hired all along to kill her, it puts an understandable strain on their developing bond, but as the teen learns of the reasons behind her protector’s actions, she comes to a greater realization of her silent albeit troubled guardian.

Although it’s based on Kevin Wignall’s 2004 book For the Dogs, which is an even stranger title than “The Hunter’s Prayer” (a throwaway line by the movie’s baddie) the whole thing feels derivative, blatantly attempting to emulate the “Bourne” and “Taken” movies. I know absolutely nothing about the book, but it becomes apparent that screenwriters Paul Leyden and Oren Moverman wind up revolving the plot around the recycled cliche “teen girl in peril protected by reluctant surrogate dude with a particular set of skills”.

A bearded Worthington, who’s shown his limited acting range, isn’t really able to offer much of anything beyond a furrowed brow and low mumblings. There are definitely moments where I thought there was going to be more to the story – like maybe his employer has gotten Lucas hooked on drugs in order to control him, get the assassin to rely on him – but no, what we get is something very familiar with stereotypical characterizations.

There is a hint of a backstory to Worthington’s character and we’re led to believe maybe the guy’s dealing with some combat PTSD from his time in Afghanistan, but that’s really only mentioned once. We learn of his vague estrangement from his wife and teen daughter, someone he’s never met, but this too is sort of glossed over and only hinted reasons for his emotional shutdown and actions. We can connect the dots and understand that he decides not to kill Ella because she reminds him of the daughter he doesn’t know (another cliche), but something else is needed for this character since he lacks an iota of charisma. Worthington comes across almost as wooden as his performances in “Terminator: Salvation” and “Avatar”, at least in “Terminator” it’s acceptable because he plays a cyborg.

 

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One interesting supporting role is unfortunately eliminated too quickly and that is yet another assassin Dani (played with aplomb by Spanish actress Verónica Echegaray  You’re Killing Me, Susana“) who is also interested in getting in on the price on Ella’s head. Echegaray may have limited screen presence, but she shows more life than anyone else around her in a short amount of time.

As for the character of Ella, a somewhat crucial role, it would’ve helped if Rush exuded a bit more charisma as well, instead of emoting the typical emotional teen girl, prone to volatile complaining and whining. I couldn’t help but to think of Hailee Steinfeld while watching her, probably because there’s a resemblance, but mostly because Steinfeld has played her share of daughters protected by estranged assassin dads, like in “3 Days to Kill” with Kevin Costner and “Term Life” with Vince Vaughn (of all people). Coincidently, Steinfeld was originally considered for the role of Ella, but had to back out due to unresolvable scheduling conflicts. It’s all for the better since it would’ve felt like typecasting. As it stands, Rush is fine in the role, but doesn’t really offer much outside of conveying the typical teen antics we’ve come to expect for such a role.

As much as the story and characterization of “The Hunter’s Prayer” suffer, Mostow’s action, from a foot chase to a nightclub shootout, is better than much of the shakey-cam work we get from many directors lately. It comes as no surprise considering this is a director who’s recently worked on the TV series “The Last Ship”. The action here tests the stamina of the characters and is also easy for viewers to follow, which can be problematic in many movies. Ultimately, “The Hunter’s Prayer” isn’t anything special or unique as it propels its way to a predictable showdown ending and a cloying end tag of redemption.  If you catch this movie, you’ll forget you watched it until it pops up while channel surfing and at that time it won’t make a difference whether you leave it on or continue surfing.

 

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RATING: **

 

 

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