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Blu-Ray Review: Kino Lorber’s The Hunter (KL Studio Classics) 

The Hunter

Steve McQueen as a Bounty Hunter.  Need we say more?  The Hunter makes its Blu-Ray Debut with a new 4K Scan of the Original Camera Negative thanks to Kino Lorber

The Film 

I mean I could say Steve McQueen as a Bounty Hunter and it should be enough for any cineaste who hasn’t seen The Hunter to give it a shot.  The last film from the legendary Super Star is at his charming laconic best here. 

Ralph “Papa” Thorson (McQueen) is a workaday bounty hunter.  He’s trying to get enough money to take care of his teacher girlfriend (Kathryn Harold) who happens to be pregnant.  Papa tears through job after job as he tries to manage his personal and professional challenges – including a stalking lone gunman, a cop friend who may be crooked, and an unfriendly labrador.  Through it, all Papa takes his lumps – both mental and physical – with a bit of humor and quiet exasperation of many of the working men of the 70s aspired to. 

What makes The Hunter so great is it is a character piece as well as an action dramedy.  There are throughlines but there isn’t necessarily a fully flushed-out plot but rather Papa is trying to continue to make money for the baby he is having with his girlfriend.   The lack of plot allows us to just exist in Papa’s world and see him at his lows and lowers.  The gruff middle-class pragmatism that McQueen exudes is something he did all his career but here it feels like there’s a little bit more heft to it.  

The Hunter isn’t just character moments.  Like the best of McQueen’s action output, there are some great set pieces.  The best being a showstopping Chicago set chase –in car, on foot, even on and around an EL Train – that ends with a spectacular car stunt.  In the middle of it, and every action scene, is McQueen giving it his all.  But The Hunter is the one film that McQueen allowed himself to take a beating and show his age a bit.  

Therein lies the greatness of the film.  McQueen’s allowing himself to be dragged across concrete for a 100-minutes gave us a more human version of the actor.  One that we just didn’t think was cool.  One that we could relate to.  One that we saw had bad days that maybe couldn’t be solved.  

This is what separates The Hunter from many of McQueen’s films.  It gave us a glimpse at what could have been the next chapter in the actor’s career.  One that could have led the actor to something like Die Hard which was only seven years away from production and originally skewed much older in its original drafts.  

If only we were that lucky.  

The Hunter is still a hell of a way for the legend to end his career.  

The Transfer

This 2022 4K Scan of the 35mm Original Camera Negative that was remastered in HD is a gem of a transfer.  The image is as sharp as one hopes for in any restoration let alone a “Scan” of the Negative.  The image color reproduction and grain structure are the highlight of the transfer, giving it a filmic or archival print look.  This gives the appearance to have none of the digital scrubbing – e.g., the dreaded noise reduction to clean the image – that some transfers employ.  The result is an image that is a near-flawless representation of McQueen’s final film, and one of his best. 

The Extras

They include the following;

  • NEW Audio Commentary by Film Historians Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • 2 TV Spots
  • VHS Trailer

The all-new Audio Commentary by Film Historians Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson opens by discussing the opening title crawls and the fact that this is the last film of the legend Steve McQueen.  Some of the other details include how the first project that made McQueen a star (the TV Series – Wanted: Dead or Alive) and his last were roles were he portrayed bounty hunters, the tonal shifts – and a little bit lighter almost comedic, McQueen’s early career where he dabbled in comedy – examples of this, McQueen’s personal history and his time in the military – how this translated to on-screen persona, the development of the project – and the various directors and writers that were attached including Peter Hyamns, the casting of Levar Burton – and the origins of the role, the lack of awards (nomination or wins) in McQueen career, the gravitas and undefinable quality of McQueen here and throughout his career, Leonard Maltin’s review of this – and a larger conversation about the critical reception, the historical context of this film being released in 1980 – it being a part of the last of the 1970s filmmaking, the Los Angeles locations used and how much LA has changed, a side discussion about McQueen’s later career including Tom HornAn Enemy of the People, how McQueen was cast in Sorcerer – and the fallout that caused McQueen to drop out, Kathryn Harold’s casting and her performance in the film, the casting of Eli Wallach, a discussion about Bullitt and its development, the real life Papa Thorson and the book that it was based on, the work of Tracy Walter, the car stunts and car work in the film – as McQueen is famous for car and motorcycle work, and much more.  Mitchell and Thompson deliver another winning commentary track.  

TV Spots VHS Trailer (1:54) – these two 30-second TV Spots and one 60-second VHS trailer can be navigated via your remote’s Next and Back chapter stop buttons. 

Rounding out the special features are trailers for The Hunter (3:15), The Great Escape (2:45), The Thomas Crown Affair(2:05), The Laughing Policeman (3:36), Brannigan (2:23), Newman’s Law (2:27), Wanted: Dead or Alive (1:20), Taffin (1:35), Murphy’s Law (1:30), Code of Silence (2:39) 

The Final Thought 

The Hunter is Steve McQueen at his best.  Kino Lorber has delivered the good with picture and sound.  Highest Recommendations!!! 

Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray edition of The Hunter is out now