The Hunter’s Prayer was directed by Jonathan Mostow (Breakdown, Terminator 3), written by John Brancato (Terminator Salvation, Interceptor) and Michael Ferris (Surrogates, The Game), who adapted it from a novel by Kevin Wignall, and stars Sam Worthington (Kidnapping Mr. Heineken, Rogue), Odeya Rush (Lady Bird, The Giver), Martin Compston (Doomsday, The Aftermath), Allen Leech (Downton Abbey, Bohemian Rhapsody) and Amy Landecker (Dan in Real Life, Bombshell). It follows a hitman who must now fight back against his contractor after being unable to complete a hit on a young girl.
The Plot: Even with my affinity for this movie, it’s impossible to deny that there’s a formula in play. Mostow and the writers do change some details around and manage to incorporate a lot of different elements from other action/thrillers without the result coming across as too familiar to be engaging.
Hitman Metzger (Compston) has just killed a young girl’s family in New York and covered his tracks, but not the girl herself. Picking up the scraps in Switzerland is struggling killer Lucas (Worthington), who’s contracted to kill Ella (Rush) for black market figurehead Richard (Leech) or his own family will be killed. He can’t bring himself to do so but Richard is willing to give him one last chance because of his previous quality. Richard’s intentions and the details aren’t all handed out in the first act, which adds a light air of mystery until everything’s established. Being unable to complete the hit prompts Richard to sic Metzger and other assassins onto Lucas and Ella.
Lucas and Ella have no choice but to dig deeper into why Richard’s dealings with his associates like Banks (Landecker) in various organizations such as the FBI got Ella’s family killed and fight their way to Richard across plenty of countries and through corrupt cops and hitmen for both of their sakes while Lucas tries to shake a crippling drug habit.
Surprisingly, Lucas is equally unable to bring himself to protect Ella as he is unable to kill her, leading her to attempt his job and get in trouble for doing so. Lucas’ only option is to do what he does (or did) best. The Hunter’s Prayer doesn’t do much of the aforementioned digging, most notably into Richard’s source of income, but the plot is good enough to get the movie and the characters where they need to go.
A simple plot is sometimes the way to go. Get it established and let the action, thrills, and characters do the legwork, and that’s what The Hunter’s Prayer does quickly and effectively, but not flawlessly.
The Characters: Where The Hunter’s Prayer begins to rise above the innumerable others with similar stories is with its characters. Most elements of the arcs should be familiar to those who’ve seen a dozen or two of these types of movies, but this movie does them so well that it’s hard to care.
Lucas isn’t what or who he used to be since his time in Fallujah left him with severe PTSD and a drug addiction. He’s managed to get by with his tactical skills and marksman accuracy, but his job has been wearing on him. Now that he’s faced with killing a young girl who reminds him of the family he hasn’t seen in a long time, he doesn’t quite shift into father-figure mode, but he tries despite his bad habits. This isn’t an uncommon arc, but the way Lucas keeps relapsing and getting close to functional as he does, along with his relevant backstory, is compelling.
Ella is a foreign student, being sent away by her rich father so he doesn’t have to deal with her and can focus on his new wife. She hated how he acted to her in recent years but makes clear that death was never on her mind. While never completely trusting Lucas because of his heroin addiction, she does sympathize with him and eventually grows to appreciate what he’s doing for her even though his initial inaction could’ve saved her father’s life.
Throughout The Hunter’s Prayer’s runtime we learn that she’s perhaps less experienced in the basics of life as she should be, a little naïve, a little hotheaded at times, and uninterested in what’s expected of her. It all makes sense given her age and makes her dialogue with Lucas seem like what could’ve been for the both of them.
Richard is a scene-chewing villain if ever there was one. He’s shifty yet aggressive to everyone he comes across, even his own son (who he’s refused to let see his mother). There’s no snark like British snark, and he shows that off and more but can seem like a bond baddie at times thanks to his unique breed of dog he’s made for killing and some offhanded dialogue. You’ll love to hate him, but he seems like he should be in a different movie. The Hunter’s Prayer offers two great leads and a solid villain. Their arcs are skillfully executed and Richard is a solid antagonist even if he’s out of place here.
The Action: Mostow knows how to handle his action scenes thanks to his previous directorial works. The Hunter’s Prayer comes off as something Luc Besson would’ve made back when he was making good movies because of the variety of mediums the action uses and the locations it takes place in.
Car chases are front and center of the movie, and it has them down to a science. The first one takes place in the confined streets of Switzerland and is able to dial its editing accordingly. It’s a stop-and-start chase with plenty of speedy drives down linear streets that abruptly shifts gears into reverse until Lucas and Ella make it onto country roads. Seeing Lucas make sharp turns to avoid the cops and the hitmen is worth watching on its own. The other segments in cars are no slouch either, with a short stretch with Ella in a trunk able to conjure some thrills and a couple of other chases being just as good as what came before.
Shootouts in The Hunter’s Prayer are perhaps less impressive but still well done and entertaining, knowing the stakes for both leads. One in a café is a strong one on its own. While it’s not long, it does have suspense and a brutal hand-to-hand fight with Lucas and a henchman. The fights in between this and the finale are good enough but rely on a lot of shot-reverse-shot cinematography and don’t pack as much of a wallop as they could given the talent and experience of Worthington and Mostow.
Action scenes are just as prevalent here as thrill-based ones. The car chases are strong and the gunfights are above average. Strictly taken as an action movie though, The Hunter’s Prayer has solid kinetics available.
The Technics: With a slightly larger budget and a more experienced cast and crew than most, The Hunter’s Prayer looks, sounds, and flows terrifically. Mostow gifts The Hunter’s Prayer with a sleekness with its reflective surfaces and a variety of locations, (this was shot in at least 3 different countries) leading to a pleasant watch aside from occasional jumpy editing during an action scene or two.
A bit more could’ve been worked into the script as it doesn’t offer a deep insight into its antagonist, contrary to its two leads. On a more subjective level, The Hunter’s Prayer should’ve cut deeper in the physical sense. If we’re dealing with a drug addict of the highest order and a bad guy who unleashes (literally) dogs on homeless men, the use of an R rating could’ve been solidified with more blood and language.
The Hunter’s Prayer uses a plot that may be too familiar to some but its action, technical merits, characters, and their performances (Worthington, Rush and Leech are fantastic in their roles) are top-notch and more than enough to put aside minor complaints. This is how to do fast action right.
The Hunter’s Prayer is available on DVD, Blu-ray and various Digital platforms from Lionsgate.