MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Big Game’ Is The Original Action Film Summer 2015 Needs

Film: Big Game
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Onni Tommila
Directed By: Jalmari Helander

In a summer overrun with sequels and visually impressive, yet predictable action epics, Finnish director Jalmari Helander has found a way to make adventure films feel new once again.

There is a long-running tradition amongst the people in Finland where, upon reaching a certain age, boys are tasked with proving their manhood by hunting alone in the woods. Oskari (Onni Tommila), a young man with dreams of being as great a hunter as his father, is about to embark on that very same mission when Big Game begins. He’s smaller than the average boy, and truth be told he’s not exactly as strong as you might expect, but he’s determined to prove himself to be just as much a man as his father.

Meanwhile, a mile or more above the Earth, the president (Samuel L. Jackson) is on his way to handle business in a foreign country. He’s expecting the day to be just like any other, but things take a turn for the worse when alarms begin going off on board the plane and the secret service tell him he must relocate to an escape pod located in the belly of the plane. He complies, and not long after entering the device he’s ejected from the plane as those aboard the flight fight for their own survival. The fall is not easy, but the president survives. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for his security detail.

It’s at this point that Helander’s Big Game finds a witty and fun groove that it follows all the way to the very end. Oskari discovers the president not long after he crash lands, and together the two continue the boy’s mission to find and kill his first animal. The president wants to go home, of course, but as he is unfamiliar with the area he’s dependent on Oskari for survival. This forces our protagonists to work together, and as the enemies come to ensure the president never makes it home, the stakes only continue to rise. There is nowhere to run except further into the woods. Nowhere to hide except under trees, rocks, and dirt. This is man and boy against nature and the evil of the world, and it delivers all the entertainment you hope to find in a summer movie without succumbing to the predictable twists that often appear in features released during this time of year.

There is a very unique energy running throughout Big Game that will either be a huge selling point for viewers or a complete turn off. There is nothing typical about this film in terms of how it plays with the rules of action films, and it remains incredibly grounded despite several moments that require sustained suspension of belief. Helander taps into the kind of wit and charm that made Spielberg’s best films come to life, but just like his previous film (Rare Exports) you get the idea about halfway through that his next project will be even better. Helander may understand how to create pure movie magic, but he’s not yet honed his abilities to the point where he can no longer improve.

Samuel L. Jackson, shedding the on-screen persona he has delivered in most mainstream films in the last decade, delivers a very strong turn as the president. I cannot imagine this role being one he is offered many times in the future given the caricature of himself he’s become in pop culture, but here he moves from dramatic to comedic beats and back again with ease. He’s strong, yet reserved.

It’s hard to know how much American audiences will see young Onni Tommila in the future, but he carries the bulk of Big Game with the precision of far more experienced actors. The role of Oskari demands an almost cocky sense of confidence wrapped around a very fragile young soul, combined with the inquisitive nature of any growing child and the ever-present desire to impress one’s parents. Add to this the action sequences, which generally involve large set pieces, and you’ve got a challenge for actors at any age. Tommila delivers.

Between shoot-outs, explosions, deception, friendship, and the absolutely gorgeous views of Finland, Big Game offers plenty for action fans, as well as those seeking something unique at the summer box office. It’s a wholly original story built using only the elements you want in a tale of adventure. Even better, it also has a huge heart, and it finds a way to hit home that most bullet-riddled tales of survival never even attempt to accomplish. Helander may not be at the top of his game just yet, but he’s certainly ahead of the curve when it comes to forward-thinking cinema. I ask anyone reading this with the ability to finance his projects to please give him whatever he needs to continue creating films. His brand of escapism is increasingly hard to find, and we need to nurture his abilities for as long as he’s willing to share his vision with the world.


Review written by James Shotwell

James Shotwell
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