Jalmari Helander’s Big Game stars Samuel L. Jackson as the president of the United States who has been shot down en route to a conference and has to survive in a Finnish forest with the help of young Oskari (Onni Tommila).
Low budget action movies tend to be a bit of a risk to watch as they can come across as looking cheap and losing much of their appeal as a result but Big Game manages to overcome the limitations of a small budget and deliver where it counts.
You might be forgiven for thinking you’ve wandered into the wrong screen based on the opening minutes of the film as it feels about as far away from a Samuel L. Jackson action movie as you might expect. Jackson doesn’t actually make his first appearance here for quite a while.
The central character here is young Oskari who is just about to turn 13 years old and as a rite of passage is sent into the forest in order to kill something and prove himself as a man. He has the added pressure of his father being kind of a big deal in his village as he managed to kill and behead a bear when he was Oskari’s age.
At its heart this film is something of a coming of age story with Samuel L. Jackson’s President Moore acting as the support for Oskari’s character growth. He pretty much personifies the deed that Oskari needs to accomplish in order to prove himself as a man to his people.
Onni Tommila proves to be an inspired choice as he comes across as completely believable throughout the whole film. He has the right amount of vulnerability without coming across as irritating and definitely seems tough enough to handle what has come his way. He and Jackson have really good chemistry and their interactions feel really genuine. The script and performances establish a very real friendship between the two of them.
Samuel L. Jackson delivers a really good performance here as well. It’s unusual to see him play a character who is scared and isn’t completely in control of the situation. He still manages to be cool but Jackson must be unable to turn that off by now but he is only really pretending to be a tough guy rather than actually being one. This is something that actually becomes a significant part of the story and informs his character in really interesting ways.
In keeping with his character he actually takes on more of the damsel role throughout the film which seems against type for Samuel L. Jackson. It completely makes sense given that he’s the President so isn’t necessarily a badass action hero. There’s even a moment where he doesn’t know how to use a gun that pays off towards the end. Naturally he gets his badass moments but they are underplayed compared to other such films in his career.
The action sequences here are fun and creative as well as a little silly at some points. An extended sequence involving an unusual use for a freezer that would make Indiana Jones laugh manages to steal the show in terms of entertainment. It’s so laughably implausible but I couldn’t help loving it.
Despite the low budget this film manages to pull off some really cool looking visual effects shots. The crash of Air Force One being a notable standout. It just goes to show that you don’t need to spend a lot of money on CGI for it to look convincing.
In terms of villains this film sort of falls a little flat in this regard. Mehmet Kurtulas is impressively cold and calculating but doesn’t have a lot of screen time and comes across as a little one note when all is said and done. Ray Stevenson as President Moore’s treacherous secret serviceman fares a little better with some better developed motivations but also suffers from a lack of screen time.
The rest of the supporting cast work really well. Victor Garber as the Vice President does well with what he’s given and Jim Broadbent as the CIA’s top spy works really well despite the fact that it probably shouldn’t. Felicity Huffman as the CIA director is suitably commanding whenever she appears.
In many ways I don’t really feel like this film is long enough. The third act had started before I really realised that it would be coming up soon and then everything wraps up really quickly after that. I think the second act needed a little more time to develop. I would have been happy watching a few more scenes of Moore and Oskari’s developing friendship. It’s not often I wish a film was longer but I’d have been more than happy with another 10-15 minutes.
A very well put together action film with a simple yet engaging story and some really entertainingly creative moments.
The heart of the film is young Oskari who is played ably by Omni Tommila. He and Samuel L. Jackson have a really natural chemistry and their interactions make for some of the film’s best moments. The script develops such a natural and believable friendship between them really well.
Samuel L. Jackson does a really good job here playing slightly against type. He spends more of the film pretending to be tough rather than actually being tough and I found it refreshing that his character wasn’t the instant badass that he usually is. He does have his moments but generally he is under Oskari’s protection.
Despite the low budget this film manages to pull off some really convincing effects shots such as the crashing of Air Force One. Similarly the action sequences remain creative and entertaining throughout.
This film does suffer a little with the villains who don’t get enough screen time to truly become threatening. What we see of them is good but they are forgettable because they aren’t around very much.
The supporting cast are fairly memorable despite relatively small appearances. Jim Broadbent acts as the biggest surprise playing the CIA’s top spy. It shouldn’t work but it does.
All told this film could have been a little longer. It wouldn’t need much added time to develop the villains a little better but as it exists right now it all feels over a little too quickly.