When someone jumps bail, they call in the best bounty hunter in the business - Steve McQueen is The Hunter. McQueen’s final film features some amazing action and stunt sequences, but it isn’t enough to overcome a jumbled story with a bizarre need to try and be funny, but as ever, McQueen is the King of Cool. KLSC delivers an excellent Blu-ray with a terrific A/V presentation, a treat for McQueen fans. Recommended
Ralph “Papa” Thorson (Steve McQueen) is the best bounty hunter in the business. He goes anywhere he’s got to go anytime to bring them in. But life’s changing. His girlfriend Dotty (Kathryn Harrold) is eight months pregnant, his employer Ritchie (Eli Wallach) would rather lowball him than pay what he’s owed, on top of not getting any help from local law enforcement. If that wasn’t enough, a psycho he previously helped put away is out and looking to kill him. But that’s all in an exhausting day's work for Papa Thorson.
The Hunter has the unfortunate standing of not only being Steve McQueen’s final film, but it’s also sadly one of his lesser entries. Not that he was bad in it, it’s just not a great movie. On one score the film is trying to be a gritty thriller about a bounty hunter stalked by one of his previous takes. On the other side, it’s trying to be a jaunty low-stakes action film with entirely too much goofy humor. You have one scene where Tracey Walter’s nutso Mason terrorizes and threatens to kill Papa’s pregnant girlfriend. The next scene we get a pair of yokels throwing dynamite from a Trans-Am while Papa chases them down in a cornfield driving a combine harvester that plays more like a lost chase scene from The Dukes of Hazzard. That isn’t to say that none of the comedy works, there are some fun pieces. The best bit is a recurring gag about McQueen's Papa not able to drive or park a car without hitting something. That was funny. Other comedy bits, not so much.
Director Buzz Kulik working from a screenplay by Ted Leighton and Peter Hyams gives his best attention to the action sequences. The character drama and the stalker-thriller plot never really come to life. The film thankfully finds a better footing for the final stretch. The action sequence in Chicago is thrilling stuff with McQueen in hot pursuit of Thomas Rosales Jr. tearing through the city with some amazing stunt work. It’s fifteen minutes of pure adrenaline-pumping action. So the film isn’t a total loss, it’s got some great moments, and McQueen’s got swagger - even if he was horribly ill.
The cast for The Hunter is largely solid in their efforts. McQueen is his usual cool dependable self. He may not have known this was going to be his last film, but there was something in those steely blue eyes of his that looked knowingly sorrowful. It was also a lot of fun to see him work across Eli Wallach again as the pair have some of the best interplay of the film. Kathryn Harrold worked well enough as Papa’s love interest and carries a lot of emotional weight. Ben Johnson stopped by for a fun but brief appearance and LeVar Burton also beamed in for a pre-Next Generation appearance. Tracey Walter got to go full nuts, but unfortunately, his character’s storyline is undercooked leaving his climactic showdown a nonstarter.
1980 is a tough year for Steve McQueen fans. After being diagnosed, he would die in a crackpot hospital in Mexico desperate for any kind of treatment for his aggressive lung cancer leaving behind a legacy of great films and performances. Of his last two films, Tom Horn is easily the better film. It’s been ages since I last saw that film and I wish it was out on Blu-ray - hopefully it’s coming soon. There are moments of genuine greatness in The Hunter, again that Chicago chase is fantastic, but the film is uneven, too short, and the character arcs are unfortunately undeveloped for it to be truly meaningful as McQueen’s final role.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
The Hunter makes its Blu-ray debut in the U.S. thanks to Kino Lorber Studio Classics. The film is pressed on a Region A BD-50 disc and is housed in a standard case with reversible insert art and slipcover. The disc loads to a static image main menu with standard navigation options.
Reportedly sourced from a new 4K scan of the original camera negative supplied by Paramount, The Hunter makes a hell of a 1.85:1 1080p release. Aside from some optical transitions and effects sequences that are a little rougher around the edges, the film looks magnificently clean with impressive detail clarity and a natural film grain appearance. Every craggy line in McQueen’s leathery face to Tracy Walter’s wacko makeup and hair to the grungy late 70s Chicago streets is on display. Colors are healthy and robust with bright clear primaries and natural skin tones. Black levels are in good shape overall, a couple of odd shots look a bit crushed, but nothing too serious. The final climax sequence in the school offers up some excellent shadows and image depth. Some slight speckling pops up occasionally but that’s the worst of any visible wear and tear.
This film previously hit Blu-ray in Australia thanks to Imprint Films in 2022, I haven’t seen that disc so I can’t offer that up for comparison, but this disc’s transfer is a winner.
This release also rolls onto Blu-ray with a standup DTS-HD MA 2.0 track. Dialog is clean and clear throughout without any issues. Sound effects are on point giving each location plenty of distinctive atmosphere and presence. The action sequences get the most sonic love with engines roaring, dynamite exploding, and the rush of the Chicago L trains getting all of the care and attention they need. Scoring by Michel Legrand carries well enough adding tension for scenes that need it and levity when necessary. Levels are spot on and I didn’t pick up any age-related issues.
Bonus features for this release may not be the most plentiful but we pick up a great commentary track from film historians Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson that’s well worth plugging in for. After that, it’s the standard collection of related trailers from KLSC.
As the final film of Steve McQueen, The Hunter is a fine enough showcase that the iconic King of Cool still had it in him, even when he was increasingly unwell. McQueen would pass away from a post-op heart attack a mere three months after this film’s release. There are great moments in the show, the sight of McQueen on top of a running L train is just awesome to see. I just wish the film had figured itself out so it was something more than it is. It could have been a slick gritty thriller but as it clumsily segues from one action sequence to the next, it never really builds tension or suspense leaving a lot of the characters short-changed. But, even for a mediocre film, it’s McQueen giving everything he had left in the tank and that's worth watching. Kino Lorber Studio Classics gives this film its first U.S. Blu-ray release offering up a terrific video transfer with an equally impressive audio mix to match. Bonus features are slim, but the audio commentary is a solid worthwhile listen. Ultimately this is going to appeal most to the McQueen die-hards, but even casual action fans should appreciate what this film and McQueen delivers - and for that, it comes Recommended