American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Here's poetic justice at work. After making "The Towering Inferno" in 1974, superstar Steve McQueen takes himself off the market. He rejects several highly publicized multimillion dollar deals. He makes an art film of Ibsen's "An Enemy of the People" in 1976. It is never released. In 1979, he comes out of retirement to make "Tom Horn" and "The Hunter." Both are complete flops. Sometimes the only way to retain your mystique is to retire.
I did not see "Tom Horn," which played briefly this spring to small audiences. But "The Hunter" bears all the marks of a tailor-made "star vehicle," one of those awful movies catering to a star's ego and image. The character played by McQueen is allegedly based on a real-life bounty hunter, named Papa Thorson, who goes after bail jumpers. It's ironic that this character has a basis in reality, because rarely has there been a less convincing movie character so obviously concocted out of thin air during story conferences.
And yet the movie almost busts a gut to provide "human elements" for the McQueen-Thorson character. That's what's wrong with it. Every scene has some sort of little touch, gimmick, mannerism or eccentricity, as if they'd add up to a personality. The opposite happens: This character is all tics and cute schtick; there's no person there.