Jalmari Helander’s Big Game is a kind of spiritual sequel (or prequel) to his 2010 Christmas horror adventure film Rare Exports. Big Game reunites the father/son duo of Helander’s debut for an entirely different kind of action adventure film.
Oskari (Omni Tommila) lives with his father Tapio (Jorma Tommila) in a small hunting community in the Finnish mountains. On his thirteenth birthday Oskari ventures into the wilderness to prove himself a hunter but instead stumbles across the President of the United States (Samuel L. Jackson), who is being hunted by terrorists after evacuating Air Force One.
It’s a ludicrous tale of childlike wonder that manages to be so sincere it doesn’t become a patchwork of 80’s and 90’s references. The heart and soul of the film is the wonderful Omni Tommila, who proves ,yet again, how impressive a young talent he is, being able to burden most of the film’s development and story through his own growth as a character. It also proves that Tommila, not Jackson, should be on the poster. Jackson is great, as always, but here he’s playing a loser, a coward, and a bit of a knob who probably didn’t deserve to be the President. His persona is a comic stereotype and a key component in Helander’s fantasy action spectacle.
That’s an interesting thing to note too actually, Helander imbues the Finnish parts of the film, the hunting community, the rites of passage, with considerable gravitas in order to set the film’s tone. All the American segments on board Air Force One, or with the terrorists, are cheesey, funny, and often farcical. This is a Finnish perspective, an outsider perspective if you like, on Hollywood action. Helander utilises some striking Sci-Fi imagery and lighting as the fronts of US politics and Finnish hunting culture collide: vast spotlights permeate the forest, a man finds a tracking beacon landed in his garden and approaches like it’s space-stuff. This is not done to ridicule the private communities. Instead, Helander seems to be sending up the whole process of action filmmaking, without dumbing it down or losing the soul of a Spielbergian adventure.
The cast is terrific and frankly a bit bewildering. Jim Broadbent appears as a hyper-minded longest-serving CIA operative, in a strange turn more suited to Red. Similarly Victor Garber, Ted Levine, and Felicity Huffman all pop up as various government officials battling to save the President’s life from within the Pentagon. Hopefully, with so many great actors and such a masterful control of tone, Helander’s second feature will attract enough attention to stop him going another five years without a film.
If you liked Rare Exports fantastical blend of genre, then you’ll love Big Game. Helander has lovingly crafted a consummate expression of his influences and a great piece of escapism. Big Game is sharp, thrilling, funny, and a hoot from start to finish.
Dir: Jalmari Helander
Stars: Omni Tommila, Jorma Tommila, Samuel L. Jackson, Ray Stevenson, Jim Broadbent, Felicity Huffman, Ted Levine, Victor Garber