Film Review: The Hunter's Prayer

Despite treading far-too-familiar territory, 'The Hunter’s Prayer' is a surprisingly solid action thriller that should appeal to fans of Luc Besson’s earlier movies.
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There’s something to be said about how almost everything that can be done in an action movie has probably already been done, with very few exceptions. With a lower-budget action film like The Hunter’s Prayer—an adaptation of Kevin Wignall’s 2004 novel For the Dogs—the story and characters must make up for the lack of money for bigger action bells and whistles.

Odeya Rush stars as Ella Hatto, a teenager at a private school who encounters a military vet turned assassin named Lucas (Sam Worthington), who has been sent to kill her. After he has a change of heart, Ella learns her parents were murdered by another assassin, and she insists on hiring Lucas to get revenge on those responsible, who are also trying to kill them both. After a few attempts on their lives, we discover why Lucas hasn’t killed Ella, while also learning he has a debilitating drug habit. This type of pairing is not unlike what worked so well about Luc Besson’s Leon: The Professional, and even the recent Mel Gibson action vehicle Blood Father.

Looking slightly more bedraggled than usual, Worthington does well in a role that doesn’t require a ton of dialogue, although he struggles in some of the moments that demand more emotion. But he has fantastic chemistry with Rush, which makes it far easier to become thoroughly invested in what happens to them. This is something fairly significant that many other action movies rather unwisely neglect.

As the two travel to find the killers of Ella’s parents, we’re introduced to a number of other characters, there to either help Lucas or kill them both. One of the more intriguing side characters is played by Spanish actress Verónica Echegui, while Amy Landecker portrays an Interpol agent who adds even more of a grey area regarding whom they can trust. Both of them are far more interesting than the film’s other key assassin, Metzger (Martin Compston).

The Hunter’s Prayer does feel somewhat cookie-cutter in the way it strings together different elements we’ve seen in other films. At its best, itcomes across like the better moments in the Bourne movies, never spending too much time on talking and exposition before we get another exciting shootout or car chase.

A lack of originality is the film’s greatest undoing, especially when it comes to the main bad guy, Richard Addison (Allen Leech from “Downton Abbey”), a rich and snotty British mogul who lives in a lofty mansion breeding violent dogs. He’s the worst part of an otherwise strong film.

One of the earlier and more touching moments between Lucas and Ella is almost spoiled by a story he tells her about having to kill his own loyal dog during a wartime stakeout. Considering the villain’s own proclivity for canines, you would think that was meant as foreshadowing of something to come, but it actually has very little significance to the film’s last act, which ends up being rather messy, if only for the number of characters left to fight it out.

A scarce few may have wondered whatever happened to Terminator 3 director Jonathan Mostow, and whether he would ever get out of “director’s jail” after the generally awful 2009 Bruce Willis film Surrogates. That movie cost Disney $80 million, at a time when they weren’t the global box-office leaders they are now. If nothing else, The Hunter’s Prayer proves Mostow still has his directing chops. Watching some of the action scenes in particular, you realize how efficient he is as a filmmaker, shooting just enough so that the faster-paced moments aren’t hard to follow.

When you think about all the bad action movies that received fairly wide theatrical releases earlier this year—Collide and Sleepless being two examples—you might wonder why a respectable action movie like The Hunter’s Prayer will mostly be seen on-demand. It’s a generally well-made film that keeps you onboard for its conservative 90 minutes. Many filmmakers working with far bigger budgets could learn a thing or two from Mostow’s efficiency.

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