by Paul Matwychuk
A summer series highlighting the hidden movie gems you don’t want to miss
During the summer blockbuster season, it’s easy for smaller, more offbeat and adventurous movies to get lost in the shuffle. Every Tuesday for six weeks, local film writer and alumnus Paul Matwychuk (’93 English & Film Studies, ’98 LLB) will come to your aid by highlighting a cinematic “hidden gem”— a movie that deserves your attention, even if you might not be aware it exists.
What with those damned Minions taking over every other movie screen in town, it’s a slow week for offbeat films to recommend to you. And so I find myself writing about a movie that may not be a sparkling piece of filmmaking craftsmanship, or even a quirky diamond in the rough, but which scores very high on the “This Can’t Possibly Be A Real Movie, Can It?” scale, and in an age when so many factory-made blockbusters are becoming increasingly indistinguishable from each other, that’s definitely worth something.
The film is called Big Game, a peculiar yet crowd-pleasing Finnish thriller that Metro Cinema is playing this week as a bit of what-the-hell summer counterprogramming. It’s the latest in a recent spate of movies (including White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen) in which the president of the United States is forced to go mano a mano against a gang of terrorists, thereby, at least according to film logic, proving his true fitness as a leader and a man. The president is played here by Samuel L. Jackson; he’s on his way to an economic summit in Helsinki when his plane is shot down by a psychopathic mercenary in league with a traitorous Secret Service agent (Ray Stevenson). Luckily, President Jackson gets into an escape pod just in time and lands safely in the middle of the Finnish wilderness.
Here the film departs from the standard action-thriller formula in two ways. First, Jackson’s character is a total wimp — a spineless softie who is held in contempt by pretty much his entire staff. That’s actually why Stevenson is so happy to conspire against him — he’s disgusted with the idea of having to take a bullet for a man “who can’t even do a push-up.” (Jackson was similarly cast against type to amusing effect in last year’s Kingsman: The Secret Service, where he played a villain who was plotting to kill everyone on earth, even though he was squeamish at any sign of blood.)
Second, Jackson’s escape pod is discovered by Oskari, a 13-year-old Finnish kid (Onni Tommila, the true star of the movie) who’s in the middle of a weekend-long solo hunting trip that serves as a rite of passage for all the men in his family. He’s nowhere near the legendary hunter that his father is, but he’s a lot braver than this useless U.S. president, and so it falls to little Oskari to protect him from the mercenaries on his tail.
My wife is Finnish, so I was probably primed to appreciate Big Game’s Scandinavian sense of humour — especially the way it posits that even the most ordinary Finnish youngster has more grit in him than the leader of the free world. (This kid is even able to tumble down the side of a mountain inside a freezer and emerge with barely a scratch on him. That’s a testimony both to Finnish pluck, and to solid Finnish appliance construction!)
Director/co-writer Jalmari Helander (whose previous film, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, is an even goofier spin on the holiday-fantasy genre) has also lined up some familiar faces for the scenes that take place back in Washington at the Pentagon: Victor Garber is the vice-president, Felicity Huffman is the director of the CIA, and most delicious of all, Jim Broadbent is a tough-as-nails CIA advisor. Look, Big Game is probably not going to head anyone’s list of the best films of the summer, but any movie that has the imagination to cast Samuel L. Jackson as the wuss and dear old Jim Broadbent as the balls-of-steel tough guy is A-OK in my book.
Big Game is playing at Metro Cinema (Edmonton) and Globe Cinema (Calgary). *Check your local theaters for upcoming showings.
Directed by Jalmari Helander. Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Onni Tommila, Ray Stevenson, and Jim Broadbent.
Photos courtesy of EuropaCorp.
About Paul Matwychuk
Paul Matwychuk is an Arts alumnus and an Edmonton film writer and pop-culture columnist. His weekly podcast TRASH, ART & THE MOVIES is available through iTunes. Read more articles by Paul here.