big_game_2Year: 2015
Director: Jalamari Helander
Writer(s): Jalamari Helander
Region of Origin: Finland, Germany, UK
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: PG-13
Digital, Color, 90 mins

Synopsis: A young teenager camping in the woods helps rescue the President of the United States when Air Force One is shot down near his campsite. (Source)

Big Game describes its appeal a few minutes in, when a character succinctly utters the phrase, “Life is too damn short not to have a cookie when you want one.” And that’s exactly the kind of tone and absurd aplomb that best encapsulates Jalamari Helander’s latest film. If you’re still unclear by what that means, it’s that I loved this big, silly adventure the way I love a satisfying pastry. It’s light, fluffy, crumbles when you mishandle it, but boy does it taste good, and when done right, doesn’t leave you with a single regret. It’s a cinematic treat that self-important elitists need not indulge, but a loving, almost Spielbergian throwback with smart action sensibilities, awe and a sincerity that we don’t really get to often anymore. If that at all appeals to you, then by all means, this brisk blast of fun is worth every minute.

The story is basically evokes a mix between Cliffhanger and Goonies. Enroute to a political summit, U.S. President Alan Moore (Samuel L. Jackson)’s plane is shot down over the mountains next to a Finnish forest. Betrayed by someone in his security detail, he’s ejected from the plane within an emergency pod, and that’s where things get interesting. Within the woods is Oskari (Onni Tommila), a 13-year old boy who has barely enough strength to fire a bow and arrow, but sent along a rite of passage, to hunt and bring back something from the forest to prove himself a man. He comes across the President’s pod and sets him free, hesitantly offering to bring him to safety. They soon find out however, is that the President is being hunted by a group of terrorists who will stop at nothing to get their prize. Together, Oskari and Alan form an unlikely friendship in order to survive the night and conquer the wilderness.

Set amidst the beautiful backdrop of Finland’s majestic mountains, Helander’s film works because it’s a very simple premise told in the most efficient way, well aware of its constraints and playing to its strengths every step of the way. The results amount to a good natured survival film with some very likable characters, a coming of age arc for young boys, and blockbuster set pieces that are a fun mix of grandeur and absurdity. Nothing in the film is truly plausible, whether its our characters using a refrigerator as a raft or a sled, but when something is this much fun, why does that matter? Even the true nature of the film’s villains’ motivations are vaguely sketched, and one of the main baddies has a cartoonish trait that could only come straight out of a Bond film. Still, the story’s sincerity amounts to a charm that is irresistible, unravelling with a fair share of twists and crowd-cheering heart. Equal parts family film and heart pounding adventure, it’s a well rounded experience that offers the sensibilities and scope of a big Hollywood action film, but without the cynicism.

big_game_1Performance-wise, Samuel L. Jackson and Onni Tommila add icing to the film’s fun execution. Jackson isn’t as over-the-top as we’ve seen him, and the film does well to avoid any real political discourse, but instead renders the character as simply a good, honest man who does what he says he’ll do. Jackson’s reputation gives him just the right amount of charisma and no-nonsense attitude that makes him really endearing. The real star of the film however, is Onni Tommila as the young Oskari. The film is really his story and the way he transforms throughout gives the plot its beating heart. He’s vulnerable and sincere at first, but as his character faces his fears, Tommila gives us a hero that strikes a nerve. Ray Stevenson and Jim Broadbent round out the cast, and while they bring an amount of eccentricity to their roles, don’t leave too much of a mark – they don’t need to either.

In a climate full of over complicated, Hollywood blockbusters all competing for the most chaotic kind of sensory overload, Big Game finds a balance between absurdity, emotion and refreshingly simple efficiency. It doesn’t overstay its welcome, never gets too dark nor does it ever drag, giving us a resonant actioneer that sticks out well above its peers in the best way possible.