At a nightclub with a would-be boyfriend, Ella (Odeya Rush), an American girl attending boarding school in Switzerland, is attacked by gun-toting assassins. That is when Lucas (Sam Worthington), the grizzled stranger Ella noticed following her all night, takes out the killers and helps her escape. He then startles Ella by revealing her parents have been murdered on the orders of psychotic British business tycoon Richard Addison (Allen Leech) whose illegal operations her father was planning to expose to the FBI. As Lucas manhandles Ella into the trunk of his car and then on to a safe-house it becomes apparent that, far from her saviour, he is actually another of Addison's hired killers and in order to protect his own wife and daughter must now murder the girl. But can the haunted war vet bring himself to do it?
Of course not or else this would be a very short movie. Naturally they team up to avoid the authorities and assassins alike and take down Addison before he retrieves the twenty-five million dollars Ella's father stole from his personal funds. Adapted from Kevin Wignall's novel 'For the Dogs' by John Brancato and Michael Ferris, screenwriting duo behind The Net (1995), The Game (1997) and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) and back in schlockier days: Watchers II (1990), The Unborn (1991) and Mindwarp (1992), The Hunter's Prayer is a better action-thriller than its generic synopsis or production stills might suggest. Let's face it, despite headlining the guzillion-grossing Avatar (2009) audiences never really embraced Australian tough guy Sam Worthington as a leading man. Yet here he is still leading movies albeit with increasingly small budgets that more often than not go straight to a streaming platform. Such was the case with The Hunter's Prayer which Worthington co-produced. Still the film brings some welcome emotional weight to its otherwise generic pairing of grizzled older (ish, Worthington remains a relatively young man) action hero and sassy wide-eyed ingenue. In the well-worn tradition of Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016), Getaway (2013) and Man on Fire (2004) though rarely done better than Leon (1994).
For once Worthington's perpetually gruff demeanour suits his world-weary character like a glove (though it is worth repeating he was excellent in feel-good Aussie family film Paper Planes (2014)). Instead of a quippy badass action hero Worthington's Stephen Lucas is a haggard, shell-shocked Iraq war veteran numbing himself with intravenous drugs, his face etched with lines of pain. What the film lacks in originality and personality it makes up for with surprising depth of characterization for its haunted hero. The scenes of psychological scrutiny between Lucas and Ella are quietly affecting thanks to solid writing and empathetic performances from Worthington and co-star Odeya Rush. Proving someone out there perfected the technology for cloning Mila Kunis (no complaints here), Rush maintains an apropos mix of fear, pain and confusion in her eyes. So that despite moments that strain plausibility or else skirt the edge of absurdity, viewers remain invested in her character's plight.
There is an overblown comic book quality to the villain that jars with the film's otherwise gritty edge. As does a subplot concerning Addison's traumatized son (Dylan Miles-Davis) that does not quite gel. Amy Landecker, an excellent actress featured in among others the Coen Brothers' A Simple Man (2009) and award-winning streaming drama Transparent, is grievously wasted as an FBI agent whose true nature is exposed too early on. Nonetheless Jonathan Mostow, who never quite made good on the promise of Breakdown (1997), does a solid job maintaining a tight pace, taut thrills and brutal action.