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New Release Review - BIG GAME

When he becomes the prey of big game hunters, the US president's only hope of survival lies with a 13 year old Finnish boy.


Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Jalmari Helander

Starring: Samuel L Jackson, Onni Tommila, Ray Stevenson, Victor Garber, Mehmet Kurtulus, Jim Broadbent, Ted Levine, Felicity Huffman



"While it has its share of one-liners and amusing beats, Big Game plays its premise with a commendably straight face, and a beating heart. Alongside the thunderous set-pieces we're treated to moments of sweetness between the film's unlikely heroic duo."


Finnish writer-director Jalmari Helander arrived on the scene with his 2010 debut Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, which posed the question "What if Santa Claus existed, but he was evil?" Helander played things a little too straight and the movie failed to live up to the promise of its premise. For his sophomore effort, Helander gives us an equally high concept - what if the life of the President of the USA were left in the hands of a 13 year old boy? This time out Helander has struck a pitch perfect balance, serving up a fine fillet of Finnish fun that delivers on old school thrills without ever patronising its genre.
As with Rare Exports, Big Game takes us to the wilds of Northern Finland, an area closer in culture to tribal Africa than Northern Europe, a place where men still kill their food. The most respected hunter is Tapio (Jorma Tommila), who followed local custom by spending a day and night alone in the woods - armed only with a bow and arrows - on his 13th birthday, and returned with the carcass of a bear, making him an instant local legend. It's now the turn of Tapio's 13 year old son Oskari (Onni Tommila) to venture into the forest, but unable to even fire an arrow, it seems the apple has fallen considerably far from this pine.
Meanwhile, en route to a convention in Helsinki is the President of the United States, Bill (Samuel L Jackson). Bill is oblivious to the fact that his head of security (Ray Stevenson) has betrayed him, faking an attack by terrorists  to eject him from Air Force One over the forests of Northern Finland, where a group of big game hunters wait to claim the biggest trophy of all. As luck would have it, Bill crash lands right at the spot where Oskari is haphazardly hunting. Discovering his betrayal, Bill insists Oskari get as far away from him as possible, but Oskari vows to get the President out of the woods safely, seeing this as the perfect opportunity to prove himself to his father and his village.
As recent as two decades ago, a movie like Big Game would have been a big deal. Now its premise would be dismissed by Hollywood execs as too small scale. Where's the robot army? Can we give POTUS super-powers? Does it have to be set in Finland? But Helander goes all out here, and Big Game wouldn't seem out of place alongside '90s blockbuster fare like Air Force One and Con Air. Made for a mere €8.5 million, Helander has gotten serious bang for his buck, keeping CG to a distraction free minimum and exploiting the stunning location for extra production value.
While it has its share of one-liners and amusing beats, Big Game plays its premise with a commendably straight face, and a beating heart. Alongside the thunderous set-pieces we're treated to moments of sweetness between the film's unlikely heroic duo, who trade lessons in survival garnered from lives led in disparate but equally hostile environments - the rough terrain of Northern Finland and the treacherous corridors of Washington DC. Helander's film is at once a celebration and a critique of Scandinavian machismo. When the defiant Oskari tells Bill "In Finland you have to be tough," his face is torn between pride and despondency.
Playing a weak man forced to portray an outward strength, Jackson is given a chance to self-examine his career. "You don't have to be tough; you just need to look tough," his Bill tells young Oskari, demonstrating the piercing gaze Jackson has built his career on. It's a long time since I've enjoyed watching Jackson, but his subtle and sweet performance here is a side of the actor rarely glimpsed.
The spirit of '80s and '90s action cinema permeates Big Game, and it's easy to imagine Helander and his mates cracking open cans on a sofa while watching Die Hard or First Blood, but the movie it evokes most for me is The Wizard of Oz, with Tommila as a grubby-faced Dorothy and Jackson as The Tin Man, Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion all rolled into one. If you're after an action movie with heart, you could do a lot worse than follow this yellow brick road.




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