BIG GAME Review | TIFF 2014

     September 12, 2014


A good thirty minutes into Jalmari Helander’s Big Game, a thought arises that never ceases to fade: “Shouldn’t I be having more fun considering the goofy premise?”  It’s a kid in the wilderness who’s forced to protect the President of the United States.  Then you cast Samuel L. Jackson—a man whose ubiquity and longevity in spite of some seriously questionable choice in projects is a testament to his enduring popularity—as the President. Unfortunately, while Helander and co-writer Petri Jokiranta have a promising set-up, they’re never certain if they should let the comedy come from playing it straight or if they should go broad and silly, so the film ends up falling into bland ambivalence.

Oskari (Onni Tommila) is a 13-year-old Finnish boy who must go into the woods and kill an animal as a right of passage into his community.  It’s particularly daunting since his father is seen as amazing hunter, and Oskari already struggles to use his bow-and-arrow, which is his only weapon other than a hunting knife.  Meanwhile, thousands of miles above Finland, a group of terrorists blow up Air Force One with the help of chief Secret Service agent Morris (Ray Stevenson), but the President manages to escape.  Oskari finds the President in the middle of the woods, and they must fight to survive Morris and the terrorists.  Meanwhile, back in Washington, the Vice President (Victor Garber) and other powerful people helplessly watch the action unfold and keep looking to a retired CIA agent (Jim Broadbent) to explain everything.


Big Game is like a super lo-rent White House Down, and I say that as someone who really, really likes White House Down.  The movie’s most original aspect is Oskari, and he’s also the most compelling.  A young boy trying to step out of his father’s shadow is a well-worn trope, but Tommila still gives a good performance.  We see Oskari’s insecurities and doubts, but he’s also enough of a badass that when it’s time to protect the President, he’s not fazed by the extraordinary circumstances. Oskari almost views it as an inconvenience because it interferes with his hunt.

Oskari has a real story with real stakes, but he’s in a movie where Ray Stevenson calmly jumps out of Air Force One while homing missiles surround him.  The bombast far outweighs the gravity of Oskari’s goals, so the decision to play the movie straight ends up draining the energy.  I’m glad Big Game doesn’t feel the need to constantly wink at the audience, but the movie rarely matches the lunacy of a little kid in the Finnish woods protecting the President of the United States from terrorists and a rogue Secret Service agent.  The most enjoyable parts of this movie shouldn’t be from seeing Ted Levine play a constantly haggard general or Broadbent failing to navigate an American accent.


Walking of out Big Game, I heard some fellow critics praise it for being a good “kids’ movie”, a description I find patronizing and dismissive.  Yes, I’m sure younger audiences will enjoy identifying with Oskari, and Helander has no problem making his young hero come off as heroic through the use of soaring music and dramatic cinematography.  But this is a movie where people get their brains blown out and others drop the F-bomb, so it’s not a PG-romp.  Helander didn’t choose a village elder or a close family member as Oskari’s charge.  He chose the President of the United States.  Helander wanted to go big, but his movie is never big enough to reach its potential.

Rating: C-

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