INFO & TIDBITS ON THE HUNTED
Director William Friedkin gave us a cop pushing hard against the
criminal element deep within himself in the classic crime thriller
"The French Connection." He enhanced the meaning of
"devil" for an entire generation and gave us a rare look at a
man of God fighting a malignant force by admitting that he, too, was
sinful in "The Exorcist." And in "To Live and Die in
L.A.," he locked a single-minded cop and a career criminal into a
power struggle that mapped the hypocrisies of their entire society.
Now, in "The Hunted," Friedkin explores man's inner
conflict over his own evils in the most primal, elemental way, by
telling the story of a retired teacher of warfare (Tommy Lee Jones) who
must battle his former student (Benicio Del Toro), a top special-forces
assassin gone renegade.
Paramount Pictures presents, in association with Lakeshore
Entertainment, a Ricardo Mestres/Alphaville Production. A William
Friedkin Film starring Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio Del Toro, "The
Hunted" also features Connie Nielson, Leslie Stefanson, John Finn,
Jose Zuniga, Ron Canada, Mark Pellegrino and Lonny Chapman. The film is
directed by William Friedkin and written by David Griffiths & Peter
Griffiths and Art Monterastelli. Ricardo Mestres and James Jacks serve
as producers. The executive producers are David Griffiths, Peter
Griffiths, Marcus Viscidi and Sean Daniel and the co-producer is Art
Paramount Pictures is part of the entertainment operations of Viacom
Inc., one of the world's largest entertainment and media companies, and
a leader in the production, promotion and distribution of entertainment
news, sports and music.
The film is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for
strong bloody violence and some language. -- © Paramount Pictures
ABOUT THE STORY
Revealing the bond between these two men almost entirely without
words, Friedkin first introduces Aaron Hallam (Benicio Del Toro) in
1999, during the bloodiest of the fighting in Kosovo. Serbian soldiers
are carrying out scores of atrocities against Albanian civilians while
U.S. Special Forces operate covertly nearby. Aaron -- at this time a
soldier in good standing -- penetrates a demolished building and slips
unseen past guards. As he moves without a sound, there is a tense moment
when the path to his target is blocked by a small child praying over her
mother's dead body. But Aaron is so skilled at melting into the shadows
that the Serbian officer who has ordered all this butchery has no clue
anyone is even in the room until Aaron has killed him. Awarded the
Silver Star for valor for this murder, Aaron feels no honor as he lies
awake, tormented by nightmares.
In 2003, light years from what happened in Kosovo, we meet L.T.
Bonham (Tommy Lee Jones) tracking an injured wolf through the bright
white snows of northernmost British Columbia. He runs with the rubbery,
bandy-legged gait of a professional tracker, not making a sound, soft on
the soles of his feet. This, along with his gentle demeanor, allows him
to approach the suffering animal. Once he undoes the trap and treats the
wolf's wound, the outraged L.T. marches into the nearest tavern and
gives a beating to the man who set the trap.
A thousand miles to the south, in the green woods of Silver Falls,
Oregon, L.T.'s former student, Aaron Hallam -- now AWOL from the Special
Forces -- keeps his own brand of wildlife vigil. Two men in hunter's
gear, but using rifles with high-powered military telescopes, suddenly
hear ghostly taunts from someone they can't see, someone who blends into
the trees like a forest goblin. He asks the two riflemen if they think
they're being fair to the deer, hunting with such big scopes, then he
swirls a knife into the tree, purposely just missing one of them. This
triggers a fusillade of gunfire from the two hunters, who are no match
for Aaron's lethal skills. With catlike reflexes, he pounces on them
brutally, killing them with animal-like swiftness.
But these are not his only victims. In fact, Aaron has viciously
killed two other hunters in the area, and the FBI, led by Special Agent
Abby Durrell (Connie Nielsen, "Gladiator," "One Hour
Photo"), desperate to track down the killer, calls in the one man
who can bring him in.
Snug in retirement, L.T. resists the mission every way he can. He's
closed off the past and this would only open everything up again. But
after studying photos of how the men were gutted like deer, every vital
organ severed, L.T. knows the killer is a man he has trained. Accepting
the assignment on the condition he works alone, L.T. walks into the
woods -- unarmed, as if tracking another wounded wolf. His final words:
"If I'm not back in two days, it'll mean I'm dead."
As Aaron is plagued by bad dreams, L.T. is plagued by bad memories of
days spent teaching others to kill. The second he hears Aaron's voice,
he remembers his best student very well, and the instant they are
eye-to-eye, he is riddled with guilt. L.T. knew that Aaron was slipping
over the edge, having received letters from his tortured pupil begging
for help. But not wanting to be pulled back into his past, L.T. had
ignored Aaron's plea, and now knows he is partially to blame for the
Finally taken into custody, Aaron is sent to a facility in Portland,
but he's soon released to operatives from the covert branch of Special
Forces he has been working for. Privy to far too many highly classified
government secrets, Aaron can never stand public trial, and the covert
agents bundle him into a van and whisk him away.
Quickly aware that the agents plan on neatly making him
"disappear," Aaron causes the van to crash and slips off into
the surrounding Oregon countryside. The FBI sends additional agents in
pursuit, while L.T. pleads with the authorities to let him chase Aaron
alone. But despite their mounting body count, the Bureau remains
confident they will get their man.
Still, it is only L.T. who can get close to Aaron, and only because
Aaron -- like a cat with a mouse -- allows him to. Furious as he is with
his former mentor for not responding to his letters, Aaron knows that he
and L.T. share a tragic bond that is unbreakable. And, even as they go
into their final combat against each other, neither can say with
certainty who is "the hunted" and who is the hunter…and who
will ultimately emerge as victor.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
Academy Award winners Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio Del Toro each had
quite an experience working on "The Hunted" as they learned
everything from knife fighting to how to forge crude weaponry. The two
actors also had the experience of working with Academy Award and Golden
Globe-winning director Billy Friedkin. Both found it quite rewarding,
and Jones, who had previously worked with Friedkin on the military
thriller, "Rules of Engagement," particularly appreciated
Friedkin's method of working, one he likens to his own.
"Billy is a fine director and he gives actors the freedom to
exchange ideas, which is very important to me," says Jones. "I
also like that he tries to get it right on the first take. That's always
my intention, too: to have the first take be the best take, every time.
To use a sports analogy, the best offense is designed to score a
touchdown every time you hike the ball," adds Jones, who likens
Friedkin's directorial approach to the way Jones and his teammates
played football at Harvard. "If you only gain 15 or 20 yards,
somebody made a mistake, and it's time to try a new play. That's Billy's
way of directing."
As for L.T. Bonham, the character he portrays, Jones says that what
is most interesting and important is that the man teaches something he
has never actually done himself: to kill. "He's awfully good at
it," remarks the actor, "and he knows everything about it,
except the actual experience of doing it."
Benicio Del Toro, who portrays Aaron Hallam, one of L.T.'s best
students in the art of killing, appreciates Friedkin's drive toward
"I'm especially proud of the hand-to-hand combat in the
movie," says Del Toro. "We wanted to keep it as real as
possible, and although an actual fight between two guys with
extraordinary knife skills could easily be over in seconds, ours is very
real in terms of how we block and how we react."
As for Friedkin, who believes that "casting is 80 to 90 percent
of the success of the film," Jones and Del Toro brought different,
but equally wonderful styles of acting to "The Hunted."
"Tommy is one of the most brilliant actors ever, and I put him
on the list with Spencer Tracy, Robert Mitchum and Steve McQueen,"
says Friedkin. "He does what great actors do: He brings a large
part of his own inner nature to each frame of the film. That's why I
love working with him. He invests every moment with a kind of humanity.
And Benicio," adds Friedkin, "brings a really strong sense of
inner self to every shot. That's exactly what this film needs because
most of it is not told in dialogue, but in images. There's no way to
write what Benicio does, it just comes through. Very often, the best
acting is not only what is written on the actor's face, but what's
written in his soul."
Having worked with such directors as Sam Raimi on "The Gift and
"A Simple Plan" as well as the Coen brothers on "Raising
Arizona," producer James Jacks was eager to work with Billy
"It took me a long time to figure Billy out," says Jacks.
"He shoots differently than just about anybody. He prepares
differently. He doesn't do storyboards; he doesn't do any of the stuff
that I'm used to dealing with. And what I realized is, Billy came out of
documentary filmmaking and shoots his movies as if they're
documentaries. He shoots action as if you're there -- as if you're
watching it happen. And what makes working with him such a unique
experience is that, like a documentary guy, he discovers the essence of
his film as he goes, and in the footage he gets along the way."
Friedkin had been dreaming of making a film like "The
Hunted" ever since he formed a friendship with professional tracker
Tom Brown, Jr., but felt it would turn out too much like a documentary
until he read a script by David and Peter Griffiths about a trained,
Delta Force-style assassin who becomes a serial killer.
"Assassins have to be trained by somebody. In fact, they're
often trained by guys like my friend Tom Brown, who to this day teaches
Special Forces, Delta and other teams the art of tracking, survival and
killing," says Friedkin. "I felt that in that teacher-student
relationship, you had the seeds of an exciting conflict -- especially if
the pupil has been driven mad by the number of killings he's had to do,
and the teacher suffers from strong feelings of guilt because he
instructs others to kill, even though he's never killed anyone
Friedkin recruited Tom Brown himself, to train the actors and serve
as a consultant throughout the shoot.
"Billy's a perfectionist," says Brown. "I've always
liked that about him. He's constantly striving to make a story as
authentic as humanly possible."
For two hours a day, three or four days a week during production in
Portland, Oregon, Brown worked with Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio Del
Toro, training them in the art of survival in the wilderness. Brown has
published a wide assortment of books, among them The Way of the Scout
and The Wilderness Survival Field Guide. These were the works that
brought him to the attention of William Friedkin. Brown also runs a
tracking school based in northern New Jersey - Tom Brown's Tracking,
Nature and Wilderness Survival School.
"Tommy Lee has a ranch down in Texas," recalls Brown.
"There wasn't much training I had to do with him because he's
already a hunter and good in the outdoors. Benicio was less experienced,
but at the same time extremely easy to train. He spends most of the
first half of the movie in camouflage, and there's a certain, very
difficult way of movement, like a shadow, that you have to master, and
he nailed it right away."
Both Jones and Del Toro were especially grateful to knife specialist
Thomas Kier, as well as Rafael Kayanan, another advisor to the film.
Kier and Kayanan, who normally train Navy SEALS, spent an average of
two hours a day, five days a week working with Jones, Del Toro and their
respective stunt doubles. "Both Tommy Lee and Benicio were really
into it," recalls Kier. "If there was a conflict, if the day
had a heavy shooting schedule, they would often make up for lost time
According to Kayanan, the primal, unrehearsed quality of the Sayoc Kali
combat style was what Friedkin was after. "He didn't want anything
where there's, like, three beats of some person attacking and the other
guy's just looking at him, or where there's taunting, or anything
playful. He wanted it to look as real as possible."
"Kali is the term that's used here in the west," says Kayanan.
"In the Philippines it's usually by the tribe, or the family, which
is where the Sayoc-Kali comes in that Tom refers to. It also goes by
Kayanan , who is himself Filipino, explains its history: "It's a
fighting style which evolved across hundreds of years, and is drawn from
all the cultures that were trading in the region. From about 1550 on you
had the influence of English, French and Italian styles of combat, but
the Arabs and the Chinese had been visiting the Philippines for many
centuries before that. All those sword and knife-styles, west and east,
molded together with indigenous methods to form Kali."
"I now know a lot more about fighting with knives than I want to
know," muses Jones. "But I have to admit it was fun to come to
an understanding of the fighting techniques used in the film."
As for Del Toro, the fact that Aaron never uses a gun gave his
character a certain kind of dignity. "Aaron is a knife guy all the
way, which I think is noble," Del Toro points out. "Even in
Kosovo, with guns all around him, he only fought with a knife."
Because Brown developed his own survival weaponry, he also consulted
in the building of props for the film. Here again, Friedkin's exacting
nature drove the effort.
"If you tell Billy about a device or a trap that might be useful
to the story, the first words out of his mouth are, 'I want to see how
it's made,'" says Brown. "He wants to know for his own sense
of authenticity. So, I would build something and show him how it kills.
Then the props and effects people took over and made it
The flint and steel knives used in the film were cast in hard rubber
from originals Brown manufactured for Friedkin for use in the sequence
in which L.T. and Aaron each forge combat-ready knives -- one from raw
stone and the other from a shank of rusted steel. In fact, by the time
Brown was through training the actors, they were capable of making the
crude weaponry by themselves.
Still other experts were brought in -- including Mark Stefanich of
Navy SEAL Team 6 -- to teach Jones and Del Toro other aspects of
"Billy was adamant that we show a style of knife-fighting nobody
had ever seen in a movie before," recalls producer James Jacks.
"At one point, when Tommy and Benicio were training, it went a
little too much in the wrong direction and became like a Chuck Norris
type of fight. But one of our experts was on hand to set us straight,
explaining that if someone were to try a high kick [like those Norris
does] his opponent would cut his Achilles tendon, and the fight would be
According to members of the SEAL team, everybody bleeds in a knife
fight. The question is how to make your opponent's cuts more
debilitating and your own wounds merely painful. That's the reason why
Benicio Del Toro's costume in the wild is covered with a small network
of ropes -- ready-to-wear tourniquets -- allowing his character Aaron to
stanch a blood-flow at any point on his body and keep fighting.
One of the most spectacular stunts in the film is the jump Aaron makes
from Portland's Interstate Bridge to the waters of the Williamette River
below. Recalls producer James Jacks: "We had to shut down an entire
bridge, which is one of the major points of access to Portland, four
weekends running. In fact, we arranged for a fifth weekend just as a
precaution, and we ended up using that, too. The big problem of course
was matching one shot to the next, because weeks would go by, and the
weather would change. It was like shooting on a boat."
There was also a mixture of actual police with actors, by way of
maintaining authenticity. Adds Jacks: "Most of the FBI guys were
actual FBI agents from the west coast, who are friends of Billy's. They
were always there to make sure we were doing things that were at least
in the realm of what would really happen. Some spectacular things are
necessary for action and surprise, such as when Benicio dives off the
top of the bridge, but even there, you're trying to make it as authentic
as possible. It might not happen, but could it happen? In reality, a man
might hit terminal velocity and splatter against the water's surface,
jumping from that height. But we talked to enough people who said, if he
was really skilled, and he hit the water just right, he could make
The jump itself was done in two stages. A stuntman wearing a decelerator
leapt from the top to the base of the bridge, then, on the following
weekend, completed the arc from the base into the water. Del Toro was
relieved to climb back down when his part was done, recalls Jacks.
"Benicio doesn't like heights -- look close, and you'll notice his
hand seldom strays from the railing -- but he's such a good actor that
he looks calm and comfortable up there."
Costume designer Gloria Gresham says that the quest for authenticity
made her job a lot less complicated. "Both Tommy and Benicio had
their set 'looks,' whether it was Tommy in his checked flannel shirts,
or Benicio in either camouflage or all black."
Gresham had previously worked with Friedkin on "The Brinks
Job" and "Rules of Engagement," and on a number of films
with director of photography Caleb Deschanel. From her standpoint, it
was an exciting marriage of two talents.
"Billy is the smartest person I know -- so charming, so talented
and somewhat eccentric," says Gresham. "He definitely
challenges people. And Caleb is a strong personality, too. I had a
strong hunch they would get along beautifully, and in fact, I think they
brought out the best in each other. The harmony certainly shows
As for Deschanel, working with Friedkin was definitely an enjoyable
experience. "Billy has such a strong point of view that it's fun to
work with him and you really know where you stand, all the time,"
says Deschanel. "Also, because he creates an environment where you
often do only one take, you have to be ready and at your best, right
from the very beginning. That creates energy on the set for the actors
and everybody else. You can't be lackadaisical and save it for the third
take; you've got to be on the ball for Billy."
Jones agrees: "If everyone is prepared, no one has to labor and
labor over a single moment. You can take advantage of however fresh a
moment might be and create a meticulously planned spontaneity."
Emmy-nominated film editor Augie Hess, who worked with Friedkin on
"The Exorcist" and, more recently, on "Rules of
Engagement," says that "a studied roughness" is integral
to the director's style. "Billy likes to set the stage and let the
actors go, and if they get it right on the first take, there's a natural
sort of impromptu imperfection to it. He definitely likes to keep the
As Hess learned, Friedkin's drive for capturing the moment also
extended to technical details. "During a flashback in which L.T. is
instructing Aaron how to fight, Deschanel used a light hand-held camera,
but it made a chattering noise that got all over the dialogue,"
Hess remembers. "So I asked Billy if he wanted to loop it, and he
said to leave it as it is. We did do some noise reduction to soften the
effect, but you can still hear the chattering, and the funny thing is,
it actually enhances the scene, giving it a documentary feel."
According to Deschanel, Friedkin's directorial style also includes
the ability to listen if someone doesn't feel something is right.
"Billy wants your best instincts, and that has an exciting effect
on everybody, especially the actors. In fact, Tommy and Benicio were
inspired to keep trying things that would ultimately inspire all of
The only time such enthusiasm backfired was during the staging of the
first major fight between L.T. and Aaron. In that moment, both men are
diving toward the forest floor, lunging for a single knife.
"Perhaps we could've used stunt people," recalls producer
Jacks. "But the actors were there, their blood was up, and they
wanted to do it. Unfortunately, Benicio leapt high and came down hard on
his wrist, jamming it. Had that been all, we might've been okay, or shut
down for a shorter period. But then Tommy came crashing down on him with
his full weight, Benicio broke a bone and dislocated seven others. He
had to be operated on, with pins put in, and we were shut down for seven
The forest floor, according to Jacks, had been padded just like the
dojo that the actors practiced in, but the ground was uneven and filled
with other unpredictable elements. In fact, it was a small plant that
caught Del Toro's hand and bent it underneath him a split second before
"I've played it over in my mind many times," says Jones.
"We'd certainly practiced it enough in the gym. In fact, we even
called the move our 'Double Pete Rose,' because we were both diving the
way Rose would dive for second base."
A good sport, Del Toro shrugs off the whole incident. "It was a
stunt that went wrong, is all," he says. "Everybody landed on
my wrist, including me. But it's completely fine now."
"The worst was learning how terrible the injury was for Benicio,"
recalls Friedkin, who used the seven-month block of time to look at the
film and find ways to improve it once the star was strong enough to
resume shooting. "I spent a lot of time contemplating the film, and
I began to ponder the story's parallels to Abraham and Isaac," says
the director. "Then I met with Johnny Cash, who wrote us an
original song for the film, and I asked him to recite the opening lyrics
to Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited. We got permission from Dylan, and
that became our scene setter."
Del Toro's injury occurred with only seven days of shooting left. The
second half of the first fight between Aaron and L.T., and their
climactic battle beside an enormous waterfall outside Portland, remained
to be shot. Happily, everything proceeded without a hitch, despite the
risks of moving a cast and crew along such vast expanses of wet rock.
"Billy filmed it with great care, choreographing every move very
precisely, with an eye to bringing you inside the action." says
Jacks. "The combination of his eye and Caleb's camerawork made the
scene more immediate than ever."