Movie review: ‘Big Game’ - an exciting race to the Finnish

Ed Symkus More Content Now
President Moore (Samuel L. Jackson) and Oskari (Onni Tommila) try to make it through the night in the wilderness.

It’s been almost a year since “Big Game” made its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, yet it’s only been a few months since it opened in its native Finland. Only now does it finally get a U.S. release. Part of the problem is that critics of early screenings just didn’t understand what they were seeing, or which audience it was intended for. Review after review listed the film’s faults: the story wasn’t cohesive enough, it relied too much on coincidence, the entire premise was absurd.

They’re absolutely right, but that’s what makes the movie so deliriously enjoyable. “Big Game” isn’t meant to be watched with a critical eye. It’s a tongue-in-cheek Saturday morning popcorn movie. It has some mainstream actors in it – Samuel L. Jackson, Jim Broadbent, Victor Garber, Felicity Huffman – but it’s aimed directly at young kids, viewers who will identify and root for the young kid (Onni Tommila) in the lead. The participation of those adult actors, playing their parts seriously in a preposterous story, makes it more fun for the adult viewers.

The first main story, before the second and third main stories are introduced, involves almost-13-year-old Oskari (Tommila), who’s about to go solo into the harsh Finnish wilderness. It’s a rite of passage, the same one his father (played in the film by Tommila’s real-life father) went through. He has a bow and arrow, a hunting knife, and some provisions, and the idea is to make it through the night in the mountainous countryside and “bring back what the forest provides,” like maybe a deer or a bear.

The second main story also happens in Finland. Well, make that over Finland. Air Force One, with lame duck American President Moore (Jackson) aboard, is headed for a conference in Russia. But the plane is hit by missiles from a chopper, the onboard head of Secret Security Morris (Ray Stevenson) radios that they’re under attack, an emergency evacuation procedure is put into motion, and President Moore is dropped to earth in an escape pod.

It’s made very clear, early on, that Morris – who lands safely on the ground and is joined by a band of terrorists – is a traitor, and there’s some dastardly plan, one that quickly comes to the attention of the vice president (Garber), the CIA director (Huffman), and a technical geek (Broadbent) at the Pentagon, all of whom are watching what’s going on over there in via satellite imagery.

Here’s what the film looks like it’s going to become at this point: Oskari is alone in the forest, hunting, trying to survive. The president, emerging from his escape pod, is alone in the forest, being hunted, trying to survive.

But, and this is really where the fun begins, the script provides some path crossing. Oskari happens to be right where the capsule lands, and sees the president, possibly the first black person he’s ever seen, climb out. And, surprise, because Scandinavian schools teach English, the lad can converse with him. His first words: “What planet are you from?”

A shaky but funny start to their relationship leads to some well written and nicely delivered discussions, some of them revolving around the difference between looking tough and being tough. Soon, the film starts jumping around between three situations: the president and the boy, Morris and his terrorist cohorts coming after them, and the Pentagon.

What’s going to grab young viewers is that little Oskari is fully in charge because he knows the landscape, and he knows something about survival, while the president, used to being taken care of, is in way over his head. Jackson plays it up, just like fans of his would expect him to, and the obligatory cursing from him when the action breaks out is harmless.

That action really picks up when it achieves a hat trick of taking place in the air, on the land, and under the water, with Navy SEALS on the way for added excitement. Some of the plot turns are outlandish, but if you aren’t prepared to accept them, you are not a kid at heart, and this film is not for you. If you like the idea, go for it, and don’t forget the popcorn.

Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.


Written and directed by Jalmari Helander

With Samuel L. Jackson, Onni Tommila, Jim Broadbent, Victor Garber, Felicity Huffman

Rated PG-13