Finnish director Jalmari Helander first made international waves four years ago with his morbid spin on the Santa Claus myth, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale. For his follow-up, he’s reunited with young star Onni Tommila for Big Game, a ridiculously fun adventure yarn that proudly boasts B-movie sensibilities while also sporting enough of Helander’s eccentricities to feel wholly unique. Equal parts goofy amusement and rousing thriller, Big Game will have you fist pumping as a young boy saves Samuel L. Jackson’s ass over and over again.
Typically, Samuel L. Jackson’s ass does not need saving. His ass is normally the ass saving other asses. This usual script is flipped in Big Game as he plays U.S. President William Moore. While flying over Finland’s Laplan region (a sparse area thick with wilderness), Air Force One is shot down and he’s forced to eject inside the safety a pretty fancy escape pod. He’s discovered by Oskari (Tommila), a 13-year-old wandering the woods alone in search of his “big game” – part of his local village’s deeply-rooted coming-of-age ceremony.
Oskari is so entrenched on making his father proud that at first he doesn’t seem to register how dire the situation the President is in. See, he’s not the most natural hunter in the world, but coming back empty-handed is not an option. My heart broke every time the little guy couldn’t pull the bow-string all the way back. And there’s a “telephone” scene that warmed the kid inside me. The most engaging aspects of the film are actually his transformation into a man; a path that might be unorthodox in the eyes of his family, but still manages to hold up their ingrained traditions.
As Oskari, young Onni Tommila is absolutely superb and he makes an awesome companion to Jackson, who plays things with a warmth that he rarely shows on screen anymore. Don’t worry, there are still some customary badass lines for Jackson to spit, but the tenderness he shows when sharing the screen with Tommila acts as a nice counterweight for them. Wisely, Helander avoids any stupid cross-cultural gags. That would’ve been lazy writing. Whenever President Moore doesn’t understand what Oskari is to talking to him, he reacts with a genuine interest in trying to figure it out. He’s the goddamn president after all – he knows diplomacy.
Big Game does have its silly moments, particularly during the big action set pieces. They’re exciting, slickly shot, and just plain bold. But silly can be good sometimes, especially when you actually care about the characters. And ho boy do I care about little Oskari. Through all his trials and victories, he’s an extremely compelling character. Really, don’t be surprised if you find yourself cheering out loud for the little knucklehead. Same goes for President Moore. The villains, on the other hand, are a little too cold for my tastes. Mehmet Kurtulus (Equilibrium) plays the lead baddie and for a guy who helped shoot down the POTUS, he comes off as bored about the whole thing. Luckily, Oskari and President Moore make up the bulk of the film.
Helander only has two features under his belt but already he’s shown off a keen eye for action and genuine emotion. Big Game hits all the right beats as it tells its tale of desperation and transformation. It’s not every day you get to see a little kid kick ass and Samuel L. Jackson get his ass kicked. It’s one helluva ride.