Unstoppable badass Roger Pilard (Jean-Paul Belmondo) is 'the Hunter', a secret agent hired by French police to curb the rise in organized crime. Paid with money stolen from criminals he relentlessly stalks and eliminates crooks regular cops can't catch. However Pilard's most elusive target is the Hawk (Bruno Cremer), a mysterious serial killer who tricks delinquent boys into robbing banks on his behalf before murdering them.
Propelled by an excellent, pulse-pounding score by Michel Colombier L'Alpagueur a.k.a. Hunter Will Get You now looks like a quintessential star vehicle from Jean-Paul Belmondo's heyday as France's number one action star, but at the time was a surprise disappointment at the box-office. It was Belmondo’s second film for journalist turned filmmaker Philippe Labro following L'Heritier (1973). Labro, a disciple of the great Jean-Pierre Melville and like his mentor heavily influenced by American cinema, fashions a hard-edged thriller that will likely appeal to fans of Seventies cop films. Throughout the crime-ridden Seventies there was the sense lawmen had to break the stifling hold of bureaucracy in order to enact real justice. As John Milius once remarked of Dirty Harry (1971), Belmondo's Roger Pilard is very much a hunter, a lone wolf relentlessly pursuing the worst kind of criminals with laser focus. Cool and charismatic Pilard is also an enigma. A brief mention that Pilard used his earnings to buy a remote tropical island is the closest we come to furnishing him with a back-story. Unlike Dirty Harry, Belmondo's innately playful persona makes many of his crime-busting tactics look like pranks. Like when he sprays laughing gas into a trailer full of mob bosses.
Labro's journalistic background leaves him able to invest an otherwise admittedly pulpy action premise with grit and authenticity. Large portions of the film are dialogue free. We simply watch Pilard methodically pursue his prey, moving like a panther through the seedy urban milieu. Despite a typically muddy Seventies colour palette the cinematography by D.P. Jean Penzer is vivid and atmospheric. The purposefully low-key approach can get confusing at times. Unless one pays close attention it is easy to lose track of which scheming criminal is which and how their actions play into the grander motives of bigger shadowy forces. However Bruno Cremer's odious antagonist proves a compelling presence. Almost Belmondo's Hitchcockian mirror image, he leads a double life as a suave air steward by day secretly manipulating naive young men into aiding his brutal crimes then callously eliminating them. The script also implies he is gay although mercifully refrains from lapsing into offensive caricature.
One of the quirkier aspects of Hunter Will Get You is that it is a film of two halves. The semi-verité cop-stalks-criminal story evolves unexpectedly into a prison break buddy movie. Belmondo forms an almost Porridge-like double act with doomed delinquent Costa Valdes (Patrick Fiery), one of Cremer's fall guys. Labro's script brings a faintly homoerotic tinge to the relationship reflecting the Melville influence. It is something later Belmondo vehicles like Le Marginal (1983) often recycled to lesser effect. The film features fewer of Belmondo's trademark daredevil stunts (save for one sequence where he impressively keeps pace with a speeding truck) which might be why it was not as a big a hit at the time. Nonetheless Labro orchestrates many exciting gun battles and the climactic face-off is well staged and satisfying. Not many action-thrillers end with a quote from Oscar Wilde either.