At the Movies: Anyone smell a rat?

Willard
by Lauren Spitzer
3 Hatchets
Animal lovers beware. The rat pack is back, and we’re not talking Frank Sinatra. This “rat pack” includes a smart and obedient Socrates, along with Big Bad Ben.

Ex “X-Files” director Glen Morgan makes his directorial debut in a recreation of the 1971 thriller Willard. This remake adds new style and interesting dimensions, particularly with the title role.

After his father’s death, Willard Stiles (Crispin Glover, Back to the Future) falls into an ostracized, estranged life, left to care for his sick mother. His job is secured only because his father formed the company, which was left to Willard’s malicious boss Frank Martin (R Lee Ermey).

With the help of his newly discovered basement friends, a bunch of rats, Willard is determined to take revenge on all those who have caused him grief. The fairly convincing friendship Willard makes with the “good” rat, Socrates, is almost enough to generate sympathy for the uncanny “freak of nature.”

The sympathy diminishes as the movie looses steam after the first hour. What keeps this “rat race” going is the once overlooked ability of Crispin Glover. Accustomed to playing an outcast or creepy guy, Glover is able to unleash a new feel to the generic outcast role.

Most commendable are the performances of the rats themselves. Martin’s sharp observation, “Oh my God look at all the rats,” allows the audience to appreciate the difficulty of having rats as supporting characters. Big Ben, the leader of the rat pack, soon becomes Willard’s adversary, which prompts Willard to “hate everyone but (Socrates).”

If rodents of various shapes and sizes are your fetish, this film’s capacity is boundless. With the exception of Glover’s intriguing performance, Willard provides no more than an old Alfred Hitchcock movie can offer. Nothing can stop these rats from finding Willard, but Willard may have difficulty finding its way to success at the box office. Though there are a few saving graces in this one, I still smell a rat.

The Hunted
by Chris Ingui
3.5 Hatchets

If a man is taught to kill by reflex, can the fact that he kills, be considered immoral? In William Friedkin’s The Hunted, Aaron Hallam (Benicio Del Toro), is this man; trained secretly by a tracker named L.T. (Tommy Lee Jones), and hired out by the government. Hallam’s character comes to the point where the only thing sacred, is the reverence of the hunt itself.

Never actually using his skills to kill another man, L.T. returns to his home in the wilderness, plagued by the reality he has trained hunters to kill by the command of others. Guilt-ridden, he refuses to return any of Hallams’ letters, which plead for advice regarding his sanity.

With the psychological effects of such training overlooked, Hallam is transformed into the primal anti-hero, leaving foreign battle only to kill those who kill without the reverence a true hunter should have. Out with Hallam’s sanity goes L.T’s hope of forgetting the past, as he comes to be the only one capable of finding and eliminating the man he trained to do what he ultimately could not, kill a man with reverence.

The film, while by genre an action film, strays far from the mere bedazzlements of Hollywood explosions and gunfire. Rather, the film works on several layers, raising questions regarding the moral no-mans-land that is primal instinct, the mass slaughter of animals for consumerism and the consequences of training men to kill by political command.

Del Toro’s character presents us with a man able to kill without passion; watching Hallam is likened to watching a tiger stalk its prey. Here, the bullet is traded for the blade, modern technology is scrapped in favor of the tracker’s sense and the binary oppositions of good guy v. bad is left in ambiguity.

The Hunted moves beyond the generic expectations of what has come to be seen as action film, its mix of visceral imagery combined with the stellar performances of two great actors make it an excellent contemplation on several dilemma’s inherent in modern society.

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