Steve McQueen’s last movie.
Fate made it that- I believe that McQueen discovered he was seriously ill only after finishing shooting The Hunter, and sadly passed away in November 1980, at the age of just 50 years old; far too young, and a huge loss to American film. Not, perhaps, that you could tell that from the quality -or lack of- demonstrated in this mediocre action film, but anyone who knew of McQueen and was aware of his filmography, the roles that he had played, so many of them iconic, anyone could appreciate the loss. Most actors make good films, great films -if they are lucky- but most actors also make bad films, lousy films. Its just a bitter turn of fate that Steve McQueen, once the biggest star on the planet, made a pretty dire film for his last film.
The most shocking thing about The Hunter, to me, is just how much it looks like a tv movie, or the pilot of a tv series. Seriously, I wouldn’t have been surprised had I looked it up afterwards and learned that McQueen was dabbling with making a tv series and that this was a prospective pilot. And believe me, back in 1980, there was nothing good about that- the scale and ambition of HBO and Netflix etc were decades away, and television was really looked down upon as cheap and inferior, so a movie looking like an episode of The Fall Guy or Starsky and Hutch? Featuring someone who was once the biggest male superstar in film? And it turns out to be his swansong, his last film, his farewell picture? Shocking, perhaps, is not strong enough a word.
True, The Hunter has its moments -very few of them, anyway- but mostly they are moments of nostalgia, from seeing familiar faces like Eli Wallach, Ben Johnson, and realising that yes, that’s Levar Burton (Star Trek :The Next Generation‘s Geordi La Forge) sharing scenes with Steve McQueen, by God! And sure, maybe there is some appeal in its simplistic, daft, easy going sense of very gentle fun. The film has an almost archaic, sweet sense of humour, and perhaps there are hints, in self-deprecating moments, of the approach and films that McQueen would have possibly made in later years, reflecting his age. But as a whole, it really doesn’t work, the screenplay appallingly predictable, shamefully low-ambition, the film cheap and almost amateur in production, barring a few nice stunts/chase sequences in an era before green screen and CGI wire-removal made everything so safe and easy.
Had Steve McQueen not been involved, I am sure The Hunter would have been long forgotten. Maybe it has been, to a degree, other than being a pub-quiz question regarding what was McQueen’s last movie. There are far better films to remember Steve McQueen, the Hollywood icon, than what turned out to be his lamentable last film.