Silent Hunter (1995): Cold Pursuit

Dave chats to veteran behind the scenes wizard Joe Thornton about a serviceable actioner and its director Fred ‘The Hammer’ Williamson’s hatred of cold weather.

“This is bullshit, Joe. Can you rewrite the first thirty pages and set us in Miami?”

These were the instructions an irked Fred Williamson barked at First AD Joe Thornton, as they wrapped another day on Quebec-lensed actioner, SILENT HUNTER (1995). With Williamson having basked in the warm glow of the sun and fun capital during the making of his last directorial venture, South Beach (1993), working in the chilly climes of Canada had him less than enthused.

“I came on at production time,” says Thornton. “We started shooting in Montreal in the heart of winter. One day on the way to location, the radio announcer told us that where we were going was the coldest place on the planet that day. By this time it was clear that Fred had had enough, so he suggested changes to the script. He wanted it the next morning too! I wasn’t sure I could do it but after an all-nighter I turned in the pages. Fred was happy, and three days later we were on a plane to Florida!”

The shift in production certainly gives Silent Hunter a distinct contrast in tone, with the Miami sequences used as a lengthy prologue that finds Jim Parandine (Miles O’Keeffe), a former Navy SEAL, now serving as a dedicated undercover cop. A family guy first and foremost, Parandine’s world comes crashing down when his wife and daughter are brutally slain in a violent carjacking that also leaves him for dead. Fast-forward two years and Jim is living his life in wintry isolation. With only a dog for company, not to mention a luxuriant fake beard, Parandine’s sole form of contact is with wheelchair bound veteran Eli (Frank Fontaine) and his attractive granddaughter Laura (Sabine Karsenti), who’s crushing hard on the hirsute man of mystery. Naturally, such a solitary existence is primed for upheaval and the inevitable tumult arrives when the local bank is robbed of the lucrative loggers’ payroll. Botching their escape, it’s not long before the three hoodlums cross paths with Parandine – who, of course, quickly realises that they’re the very same crooks who shot his nearest and dearest.

Essentially that’s where Silent Hunter sinks or swims: it’s reliant on your ability to forgive a narrative that’s constructed on an outrageous coincidence. Aside from that, it’s a commendable time-passer. O’Keeffe conveys the strong, silent type with ease, and the friendship his character has built with Eli and Laura makes for the picture’s most genuine moments. The three criminals (played by Peter Colvey, Jason Cavalier, and Liza Minelli lookalike Lynne Adams) are all drawn from The Bumper Book of Bad Guys, but that’s no disaster – even if it’s a little surprising that Silent Hunter‘s four screenwriters didn’t flesh them out better along the way. That, though, might be due to the project’s lengthy development period, as Thornton explains:

“I don’t know exactly how things were before I came along. I understood that the script wasn’t a collaboration. I don’t even know who wrote the first draft. We never talked about it and I got the impression that either the film’s producer, Wolf Schmidt, or Fred had the script for some time before it was produced. It was originally supposed to be shot in Alberta which is why I was hired initially.” 

In terms of Williamson, Silent Hunter fits mid-pack among the dozen-and-a-half directing gigs for the ex-defensive back. The Hammer also shows up in a cameo as the local sheriff, complete with a live-in lover (Annie Dufresne) forty years his junior. He saves the bulk of the action for the final third – and though it’s all distinctly by the numbers, the multi-hyphenate icon ensures that if, like me, you have a kink for snowbound suspense, then there’s enough in Silent Hunter to keep you moderately hooked.

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