Big Game – a lean, lucid and ludicrous B-movie – takes its 90-minutes of runtime, does with it exactly what it needs to and bids farewell at a point where other movies would just be cracking their narrative knuckles.
Free from the burdens of overwhelming exposition and a desire to endow the audience with too much frivolity, the second film from Finnish writer/director Jalmari Herlander gives the audience exactly, exactly enough of its high-reaching premise and flashbang, stylized action.
The Story centers on a young Finnish bow hunter named Oskari (Onni Tommila) protecting the President of the United States (Samuel L. Jackson) from a gaggle of terrorists (led by Mehmet Kurtuluş) who have destroyed Air Force One and are treating POTUS as “big game” – think a prized elk or moose – in the Finland wilderness.
Big Game’s rather-inspired plot is prime for a schlocky serving of slap-your-knee amusement. As with President-in-peril movies like Air Force One, White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen, Big Game requires a stretch of the imagination in order to buy into its ideas; no – Presidential security probably isn’t as loosey-goosey as these movies make seem. Further, how many times can saving the President in a precarious situation be entertaining when you know what the outcome is going to be?
As to be expected, Big Game has plenty of larger-than-life moments that filmgoers have come to expect from B-fare, and the film’s look gives it a music video/video game cuts-scene feel to add to its stylized nature.
But with Big Game, buyers will get more than getting surface-level satisfaction. Herlander hinges the film not on its ideas or iconography, but its characters. The film is just as much about Oskari becoming a man as it is a rather-unorthodox Presidential rescue attempt.
Big Game opens with Oskari’s father – a well-respected huntsman among their community – preparing his son for a right-of-passage hunt. Oskari doesn’t exactly hold the communal stature that would have many expecting his success, and the boy knows it.
Charged by a rousing speech from one of the community’s elder huntsmen and an affirmation from his dad, Oskari breaches into the unknown, looking for his manhood.
The relationship between Oskari and POTUS – the quite-official sounding William Allan Moore – drives the movie home, even past the popcorn-friendly premise and the big-wig stylized moments. Tommila is a delight, and Jackson can play a role like this in his sleep.
Their chemistry gives Big Game its heart, and shows that Herlander has a good eye for casting. Oskari’s search for manhood, and POTUS’ search for help, create a situation where the two have to lean on each other.
The air-tight screenplay doesn’t give a lot of background to either lead, nor does it spell out the terrorist’s main aims or the backstory of turncoat secret service agent Morris (Ray Stevenson). Stevenson is aggressively interesting in his villainous role, one that’s been done time and time again in sister films. The scorned assistant is a typical archetype, but Stevenson’s body language and line delivery sell a far-more complex character than typically expected.
Even in small doses of the America-based war room where US officials are debating on how to get POTUS home (Jim Broadbent, Victor Garber, Felicity Hoffman and Ted Levine amongst its ranks), these ancillary characters manage to be curious. Really – that’s half of Big Game’s charm. There’s more to the movie than a crazy premise and crazier set pieces. Herlander tells the story like a fable told in hunting lodges across Finland, with the storyteller’s foot up on a chair, leaning on his leg, a fire crackling behind him — a storyteller holding captive his audience.
Finally, there’s a comparison between film and subject. Just as with Oskari’s ascension to manhood, Big Game takes steps toward maturity in a genre that could sure use some.