Movie Review: Big Game
(Rated PG – 13 for sequences of intense action and violence, and some language)
Much like horror, action films are a genre that I am often wary to tread into. It can often take a little extra ‘oomph’ on the part of the filmmaker, to make me want to go into an action film. Sometimes, it can be the association of a trusted name (like Brad Bird’s involvement in the Mission:Impossible series), or treating your lead as an average Joe (like in the case of the first Die Hard film).
In 2010, a Finnish film called Rare Exports, became a cult-hit. The film was made by brothers Jalmari, and Juso Helande, and set around Christmas time. The plot centered around a strange excavation project, that soon seemed to threaten a nearby village. The brother’s concept was a little like the style of Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment productions, in that you would have extraordinary things happen to ordinary people…albeit in Finnish surroundings.
4 years later, Jalmari Helander released his next film, though bringing in more of an American angle to the “extraordinary” portions of his latest project.
In Finland, a young boy named Oskari (Onni Tommila) is set to begin his village’s rite of passage. He is sent out into the nearby mountains, with the task of hunting down a wild animal. His kill will prove to those in his village, that he has reached manhood. Though many doubt the young boy can complete his task, Oskari’s father Tapio (Onni’s real-life father, Jorma Tommila) believes his son can do it.
As Oskari makes his way into the forest, his journey takes an unexpected turn, when Air Force One crashes through the trees, and Oskari finds an escape pod, wherein inside he finds President William Alan Moore (Samuel L Jackson).
Moore wishes for Oskari to take him back to civilization, but the young boy refuses, until he has completed his task. As they continue on their way, they soon discover that there are other people in the woods, that seem to be hunting bigger game than what Oskari is looking for.
Helander’s films can get a little hokey in places, but thankfully, he doesn’t quite reach the levels of eye-rolling I achieved with recent “President-in-danger” films like Olympus Has Fallen, or White House Down.
While Sam Jackson’s name on the film may make some immediately assume he’s going to be playing a President that could rival Harrison Ford’s in the 1997 film Air Force One, Jackson’s character isn’t much of a fighter. He can talk a little tough at times, but he is most definitely out of his element in the Finnish wilderness.
Onni Tommila’s performance almost rehashes his character from Rare Exports: a small boy, whose almond eyes seem to convey a person who when push-comes-to-shove, will not back down from a challenge.
Both Oskari and William find a common ground, in that society doesn’t expect much from them, but deep-down, they are trying to prove themselves. The film has a few decent person-to-person exchanges, that while not emotionally groundbreaking, help us to flesh out the characters a little better than most films. This is definitely crucial, considering the film gets its business done in just a little over an hour-and-a-half.
One would almost expect a lot of bickering and whining between the two (since they’re from two different worlds), but thankfully, Helander doesn’t fall into that typical American movie trap. Both come to a consensus soon that they need each other, and that cooperation is the key to their survival.
The film also gives us a war room scenario in Washington DC, with the Vice President (Victor Garber) and the CIA Director (Felicity Huffman), bringing in a retired Secret Service agent (Jim Broadbent), as a liaison to assist. These scenes have a lot of lingo being thrown around, and it’s a little like the crisis center scenes in The Bourne Ultimatum, but without much getting done (and without the constant editing and shaky-cam). I almost feel like we could excise this portion of the film. Though it does show the American forces looking for the Commander-in-Chief, it often feels like it could just be something that you imagine going on in the back of your mind, as you follow Oskari and William’s story.
What may drive some people a little nuts about Big Game, is the amount of layers under the story. I was at least glad that that there was more than just the 3 I uncovered, but they may have gone a little overboard on a few others.
One fun bit of camerawork. are all the vistas of the wilderness, with the environments being shot with beautiful panning shots, reminding one of the vistas we saw in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films.
Rare Exports showcased a gritty, yet intriguing use of visual effects, and I will admit that the effects work here is pretty good as well. The shots of Air Force One in flight are beautiful, and seem to have a realism that one seldom believes from work on American productions. Nothing ever gets overly-shiny or under-detailed like some productions, but then again, the filmmakers don’t work too far outside of what the effects are meant to convey.
When I first heard about the concept of this film, I eagerly looked forward to seeing it in theaters…only to grow disappointed that even with Sam Jackson playing The President, noone expanded it beyond an extremely-low theatrical run. I would have had to journey far beyond the city into the suburbs, to find the only theater showing it this summer.
It’s sad, because the film is probably one of the best “President in a bad situation” films in awhile. There’s something decidedly Air Force One about some areas, but it manages to not get too convoluted like Olympus Has Fallen, or rely on the bland ‘coincidence-ad-nauseam’ style of Roland Emmerich’s films like Independence Day, or White House Down.
Final Grade: B- (Final Thoughts: “Big Game” isn’t quite as entertaining as Jalmari Helander’s last film outing, but it should definitely be considered one of the most entertaining popcorn flicks of the Summer of 2015, that noone saw. Onni Tommila and Samuel L Jackson have a decent “buddy” chemistry on-screen, that doesn’t get too overbearing, even with the language divide. The layered plot can get a little too drawn-out at times, and the subplot regarding what motivates the bad guys, might get a little too out-there for some audience members. Then again, you might enjoy it if you recall some of the action film fun of the 1980’s.