This summer, the blockbuster films have been like going through a barren, scorching desert. Every once in a while, we come across a few refreshing oases that keep us going and continue to give us life. When your choices this weekend are a soldier dog or a vulgar, unfunny teddy bear, your choice becomes simple: see Big Game, one of the best alternative action films to come out of this summer.
Oskari (Onni Tommila) travels into the forest as a right of passage into manhood, but instead discovers US President William Alan Moore (Samuel L. Jackson) in a pod from his recently shot-down Air Force One. Disgruntled Secret Service Agent Morris (Ray Stevenson) was part of a plan to kidnap the president for big game hunter Hazar (Mehmet Kurtulus). Back at the Pentagon, the vice president (Victor Garber) and the CIA director (Felicity Huffman) employ the help of veteran CIA operative Herbert (Jim Broadbent). Oskari still has a mission to complete, and President Moore has no choice but to follow him, since he is unfamiliar with the terrain. The hunters have yet to realize they are the hunted. President Moore is then forced to take on these bad guys with no combat experience and a boy who hasn’t quite learned how to shoot an arrow. The President has been betrayed, but he has yet to figure out just how far his betrayal extends.
Most people would assume that the film’s star is Samuel L. Jackson, especially since his name is more recognizable than his co-stars’, but that’s where you’d be mistaken. Onni Tommila is the real hero of this story, turning Jackson into his timid sidekick. This is a role we rarely see Jackson in, but it is one that I’m glad he took. We get to see some emotional range and a more tender and honorable side as he plays America’s president. Not playing an evil villain or master spy, but instead playing a normal human being that just so happens to be one of the most powerful leaders in the world. Samuel L. Jackson takes a back seat to the swearing, swashbuckling hero and assumes the mantle of don in distress in this Finnish coming of age tale. Jackson’s role is to help Tommila’s character transition into manhood, even though technically it seems more like it was the other way around. I wonder if Jackson is available for bar mitzvahs too.
The acting is over-the-top, as is customary in these kinds of films. The heroes are clear, the villains are obvious or become very obvious very quickly, and the stakes are always high. The film’s visuals and special effects toe the line between a summer blockbuster and a B-rate action film, leaning a little more towards the latter. As a whole, the film comes off as a charmingly cultivated homage to the cheesy action films of old. Writer/director Jalmari Helander knows about how to play an action/comedy film, since he also did the exciting Christmas epic Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale. Helander uses much of the same local cast, including the Tommila family, which gives their relationship an obviously organic on-screen feel. These relationships, and the overarching story about maturity, give this film its true, beating heart.
One of the best features of the film was how it set up Onni Tommila, a fairly unknown actor here in America, as the lead against one of the most recognizable actors in the industry. It was that stark contrast that made Tommila stand out even more, surprising us with how excellently he was able to hold his own in a comedy and action role. Ultimately, this enjoyable thrill-ride did something very few films can achieve: successfully set up the end of the film for a potential sequel that we would actually want to see.
In a summer where cinematic thrills are on short supply, it is comforting to know that we have options beyond the blundering box office choices that come out that week. Big Game delivers all the bombastic action and attitude of a summer blockbuster with the emotional core of a coming-of-age film. The film boasts a big game, but in this case, it gives us everything we expect.
RATING: ★★★★★★★ (7/10 stars)