Thursday, June 25, 2015

Big Game

As nostalgia continues to fuel decisions of what films to greenlight these days, there are two different ways filmmakers can play on audiences' memories of films from years past: they can either directly reference older movies, or they can try to capture their vibe and incorporate that style into their storytelling. Big Game is a perfect example of the latter, a self-aware, idiotic '90s throwback full of B-movie fun.

Big Game
Writer/Director: Jalmari Helander
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Onni Tommila, Ray Stevenson

The film comes from Jalmari Helander, the Finnish director responsible for Rare Exports back in 2010. Onni Tommila stars as Oskari, a boy sent into the wilderness on his thirteenth birthday as part of a coming-of-age tradition for his village. Each boy goes into the woods with a bow and arrow and has one day and one night to kill a deer; when he returns to the village, he's considered a man. Oskari desperately wants the approval of his father, a local legend who killed a giant bear during his ceremony.

Meanwhile, Samuel L. Jackson plays the President of the United States, and when Air Force One is shot down over Finland, he's discovered by Oskari out in the middle of the forest. But the two of them quickly realize that they're being hunted by men who are out to get the President, so it becomes a survival tale that relies on the chemistry and trust between the two strangers.

Interestingly, Jackson's President is the opposite of Harrison Ford's ultra-manly Air Force One hero: he's not particularly strong, and certainly can't knock out a bad guy with a single punch. During one confrontation, he basically gets his ass kicked in front of Oskari while the boy (and the audience) watch helplessly, feeling sorry for him. Cut off from all communications, he realizes that he actually needs this kid's help to make it through their scenario, and Jackson delivers a nice, unexpected performance. And props go to Tommila, who is fantastic as the young Oskari, holding his own against Jackson every step of the way and commanding the situation when the Commander in Chief is clueless about what to do next.

Helander, who both wrote and directed, manages to create an action movie with a cool blend of personal stakes and a cultural tradition many of us aren't familiar with, and the results are surprisingly effective. The overall story is great, the script has exactly the right balance of self-awareness and thrilling action, and all of the beats are executed to perfection. There are a few ludicrous scenarios that pop up near the end involving characters surviving some situations in which no one could conceivably survive in the real world, but that's par for the course in a movie like this.

Other than some very obvious themes about masculinity, there's not really much going on in this film. Big Game is more about big, broad fun than anything else, and with solid work from the two leads and a nice supporting cast including Jim Broadbent, Ray Stevenson, and Victor Garber, there's plenty of explosive action to go around.

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