UK Release Date: 8th May 2015
Runtime: 90 minutes
Director: Jalmari Helander
Writer: Jalmari Helander
Starring: Onni Tommila, Samuel L Jackson, Felicity Huffman, Jim Broadbent, Ray Stevenson, Mehmet Kurtuluş
Synopsis: When Air Force One is shot down, the President must turn to a resourceful Finnish boy to keep him alive.
Finnish director Jalmari Helander burst onto the scene in 2010 with his bizarre, dark Christmas movie Rare Exports. He showcased a flair for the macabre and a brilliant grasp of visual storytelling. He returns to the screen with Big Game, which merges Helander’s Nordic sensibilities with Hollywood action.
Oskari (Onni Tommila) is sent into the Finnish wilderness as part of a coming of age test. Meanwhile, US President William Moore (Samuel L Jackson) has his plane shot down over the woods and crash lands. As he is pursued by terrorist Hazar (Mehmet Kurtulus), Moore allies with Oskari whilst the Director of the CIA (Felicity Huffman) and advisor Herbert (Jim Broadbent) try to devise an escape plan.
Big Game suffers from its slightly weird genetic make-up. The gloss of Hollywood meshes rather awkwardly with the grubbier tendencies of the director. It’s as if there are two different films playing at once, creating a final concoction that doesn’t feel real at all. Some expensive effects and a couple of A-list performers are no substitute for the edge and creativity Helander brought to his previous film.
| "He’s just a certified, Grade A, psychopath."
The main attraction of the film is, of course, Samuel L Jackson as the President. It’s an inspired piece of casting that gives Big Game a real hook. Jackson’s performance is largely phoned in, but isn’t helped by the fact his character is a paper-thin thumbnail of a human Onni Tommila, star of Rare Exports, is game in the central role. He has little chemistry with Jackson, however, in a prime example of the film’s difficulty balancing its gritty European roots with Hollywood money.
This difficulty is equally present in the film’s approach to action. Rare Exports is a brutal film with some shocking violence. Big Game, however, courts the 12A borderline and feels castrated as a result. Helander seems unsure where to pitch the film’s action sequences, given that he must keep within the constraints of the age rating.
Outside of the main thrust of the plot are a series of characters who have completely unbelievable motivations. The film is very fond of having people betray each other, but never spends much time explaining why. Rather than making the character development logical, Helander prefers to rush to the next set piece in the hope that an explosion will paper over his narrative cracks.
| "Before I draw my last breath, I shall deliver you the President."
Big Game is not an unexciting film. There’s a reasonable degree of fun to the action sequences and the adventure narrative is a pleasing throwback. The story just doesn’t hang together and the characters aren’t well-drawn at all. Helander remains an interesting filmmaker, but he would be wise to return to his roots next and harness his innate creative weirdness.
Pop or Poop?
Given Jalmari Helander’s impressive debut film, Big Game sits as a prime example of what happens when you marry that with Hollywood glamour and gloss.
It shows flashes and glimmers of promise, but suffers from lazy performances, poor plotting and trouble managing its tone.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.