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There has always been something romantic about the solitary hitman, a typically stoic and tormented figure that by design finds redemption in the story. That’s the allure of course, the tragic anti-hero who is challenged by greater evils on their path to righteousness, usually learning from their targets that they are better than they know. The genre demands a certain kind of motivation in turning killer into savior, be it amnesia and the search for answers in the Bourne series, or revenge for the loss of a dog as in the first John Wick film. Seemingly countless movies in the genre have played with varying themes though most follow a similar path with lots of gun-play and a whole lot of running.
For Stephen Lucas (Sam Worthington), a drug-addicted but highly-talented killer, the job has left him hollow, but his current employer keeps him in steady drug supply, though the effects seem more to dull the agony of his lifestyle than for any kind of pleasure. His latest gig is one of punishment, his boss (Allen Leech), a wealthy but corrupt businessman is ripped off by an employee for millions and sends Lucas (and a few others) to kill him and his family, starting with his 16-year-old daughter Ella (Odeya Rush). When Lucas tracks her down, he hesitates and can’t pull the trigger, even though his own estranged family become threatened, and now, to keep them all alive, including Ella, Stephen must take on the biggest fight of his life.
Directed by Jonathan Mostow, Hunter’s Prayer is a checkered little thriller that works best when it’s on the run and the leads are looking over their shoulders. These moments are extremely well-executed and Mostow handles the action with a sure hand, mixing in convincing fisticuffs and shootouts with a few good chase scenes. While standard stuff to be sure, they nonetheless hit the mark and are the film’s best parts, giving the story a great sense of urgency.
Where it loses traction a bit is in the peripherals, especially scenes involving Leech, who is a good actor but overplays the villain role with too much campy bravado, roaming about his castle-like estate complete with a young son practicing the art of archery, that from the first time we see it signals a circle that will complete later on. There is another subplot with an FBI agent (Amy Landecker) that feels under-cooked, though at least seems logical. These are characters that whenever on screen, sap the momentum and even a bit of the credibility, but at least do not have a lot of screen time.
Thankfully, Worthington steps up. This is terrific work from an actor who knows action well enough but has never embraced that definition as enthusiastically as he might have. He’s a leading man who is certainly convincing when he’s in a fight, but there is a tenderness about him that has helped shape our sympathies while watching. That’s probably best done here in a role that takes great advantage of Worthington’s abilities. It’s not that he’s an everyman character because he is most definitely not, however we feel for him and he earns every bit of our loyalties when the story races to its finale.
Rush is also well-cast and has a few strong moments, even if we don’t get much chance to know more about Ella beyond the usual trope-ish rebellious rich-girl teenager at the start. The genre is typically about a smart-mouthed schoolgirl, but Rush steer’s far enough away once things kick in and she remains very believable. That’s a solid assessment of the film entire, a movie that entertains and convinces, despite some flaws.
Movie description: Hunter's Prayer is a 2017 action thriller about an assassin who makes a fateful choice on his latest assignment and ends up in a fight for his life with the young woman he was meant to kill.
Director(s): Jonathan Mostow
Actor(s): Odeya Rush, Sam Worthington, Martin Compston
Genre: Action, Thriller