Big Game has the biggest budget of any Finnish movie ever made, so naturally they actually made it in Germany, reportedly because the Finnish director thought that the Alps looked more like Lapland than Lapland does. I suspect you have to be a Finn to understand exactly what kind of joke that is, although it may just have been a joke on the German taxpayers, who were collective executive producers of Big Game through the miracle of film subsidies.
Every penny of the budget shows on screen, especially when it comes to the digital effects, which are comfortingly wonky looking and add to the fun in the same way that handmade wooden toys are somehow more cherishable than perfectly machined Transformers action figures. “yes, yes,” the movie seems to be saying “we had to fake this with CGI, and we all know we had to do that, so let’s just get on with the movie, which will have something human scaled in just a second."
Easily the best special effect is Samuel L Jackson, who is taking it easy as a slightly disreputable US president who doesn’t know how a gun works, can’t look after himself in a punch up and needs a one week lead time and a stack of flash cards to make his one-liners land. Jackson can’t quite manage not to be cool, but he sells the idea that cool is an effort for him. Which lets his Finnish child actor co-star keep up handily. They make a fun pair to hang out with, because neither of them is really any good at action, but they’ve both got a lot of heart.
When I saw that Ray Stevenson was a headliner, my spirits rose, because I will watch Ray Stevenson in just about anything. Sadly, since he stopped being Titus Pullo he always seems to be playing the bad guy, and Big Game is no exception. When are they going to make Ray the hero? And when are they going to let him just keep his own voice?
Plot; US president is being chased around Lapland by crazed terrorists and only a Finnish child on a hunting quest can save him. The action jumps back and forth between the chase on the ground and the Pentagon situation room where a cast of ringers are getting nothing done to project US power into the arctic circle. The US doesn’t come out of this looking great, really. On the one hand, they’re powerless to intervene in Lapland, and on the other hand, the only US people with their heads on straight are the machiavellian sleaze bags who’ve put together the whole plot as a false flag operation to get rid of a weak president and replace him with one whose weaknesses are more to their liking. Did I say ringers? Ted Levine (from Oscar winning move Silence of the Lambs and about a million TV shows). Jim Broadbent (Oscar winner in his own right) Felicity Huffman (Oscar nominee) Victor Garber (Alias, Argo, Titanic) do all the talking in the war room. I imagine it took them a couple of days and they’re not exactly stretching themselves, but look at all that quality ...
Meanwhile back in Lapland, it’s an enjoyably bonkers action movie with a tiny cast and a director forced to use imagination and characterisation to make up for a lack of money. It doesn’t always work, but it works better than a lot of other things I’ve seen which had money to cover their other sins.I loved it that Oskari is the dead opposite of a bad ass and never really rises above that. Yes, he’s got a bow and arrows, but every time he tries to draw the bow the arrows just flop onto the ground in front of him. And somehow, that never gets old. I think the movies have conditioned us to think that “this time it will work.” and somehow the more it doesn’t, the funnier it gets - and the truer it feels. The action and plot are ridiculous, but the people in the middle feel real.
And then there’s the fridge. Oskari has to prove he’s a man by going into the forest and killing something, but even his own father, the greatest hunter of them all, rates his chances so low that he’s stashed a deer head in a cooler on the mountainside so that Oskari will have something to bring back. The cooler ought to get third billing; it’s centre screen for about twenty minutes, and it’s the second most ridiculous fridge in the movies. And it’s no one trick pony; it’s bulletproof, watertight, airtight, buoyant and all but indestructible as Oskari and the President get dragged through the forest in it, machine gunned in it and then fly off a cliff and into a lake, all without so much as a scratch or a dent on either of them or the fridge.
Big Game isn’t quite as mad as other Scandinavian lunacy I’ve seen, but it shows how much you can do with a little money and a simple plan. It’s tempting to wonder what the team could do with Hollywood money, but I think it would be more interesting to give Hollywood Finnish money and see if things got better.