Some crime shows give you a clever mystery to solve, involving interesting characters. Others take you away to an unusual, atmospheric location where, perhaps, things aren’t quite as they seem. Then there’s the kind that drop you into a situation that’s almost too difficult to imagine. The Italian crime show The Hunter falls into that last category. The year is 1993. The setting is Southern Italy. There’s a war being fought between the forces of justice and the Mafia. Some of the main players have killed hundreds of people but they walk free, unhindered, and go about their deadly business.
With a few quick edits at the beginning – news items involving bombings and brutal assassinations – The Hunter puts you on the front line in that war. Then we meet Saverio Barone, played by Francesco Montanari, a dynamic young prosecutor who wears tailored suits, drives a convertible sports car, and isn’t afraid to participate in drugs raids with the police… just to make sure they don’t let any rabbits out of the snare.
Instantly, we’re in the picture. Some cops are scared of the organisations they’re up against. Others have been corrupted one way or another. But Barone isn’t driven by a sense of justice or a moral compass quite so much as an ambition to get to the top. So, when he’s invited to work with the Anti Mafia, he attends the meeting and informs on his boss, a thick-necked cigar smoker whose lifestyle exceeds his pay grade. Barone is almost as ruthless as the criminals he’s up against, and he’s willing to admit it too.
The Anti Mafia is a judicial organisation operating from a guarded building called The Forbidden City, in Palermo. It has been siloed, separate from other crime fighting bodies, to prevent corruption. But is that about to change?
With the first episode airing at 11pm on Sunday 18 April, The Hunter has an unusual feel to it. The atmosphere is often light, and even superficial at times, with a tinny soundtrack consisting mostly of 90s pop. Yet when captions appear about the men Barone is up against, things start to feel a whole lot more ominous. Example 1: Leoluca Bagarella, AKA Don Luchino, responsible for over 100 murders. Example 2: Giovanni Brusca, AKA The Swine, responsible for over 200 murders. And pretty soon we see these fellows in action, murdering and hacking up a police informer. Bagarella’s a big believer in doing your own dirty work.
We also get to see other parts of the Mafia food chain. So Barone’s rise and his crusade against the organisation is juxtaposed with the story of Bagarella’s new recruit. Toni Calvaruso (Paulo Briguglia) is an ex-con with a wife and a six-year-old who probably can’t work anywhere else, so he auditions to become Bagarella’s driver. Toni sees the affable, charismatic and respectable side of his boss, not the disfigured bodies. They listen to Every Girl and Boy by Spagna as he drives Bagarella around Palermo, helping his boss move to a new apartment that looks right into the home of an Anti Mafia judge…
Interspersed with Mafia and Anti Mafia developments, there are curious flashbacks to protagonist Barone’s youth. Scenes of him out in the forest, shooting a wild boar. A vision of easier times, but also a metaphor for his current preoccupation – hunting The Swine. It feels a little disorientating. Barone must also balance his ambition to reach the top with his relationship with girlfriend Giada (Miriam Dalmazio), who spots his weaknesses from very early in the series.
As well as airing on Channel 4, The Hunter box set will stream on More4 from Friday 16 April. There are 12 one-hour episodes in the first series, and a second series has aired in Italy, where the show’s title is Il cacciatore. The show is already available on PBS Masterpiece in the US.
The story has been adapted from the autobiographical book Cacciatore di Mafiosi by Alfonso Sabella, an Italian magistrate who worked for some of Italy’s most senior judicial authorities and oversaw the arrest and prosecution of hundreds of mobsters. The Hunter won Best Crime Series at the Golden Umbrella TV Awards in 2018, and Francesco Montanari won Best Performance at the Cannes International Series Festival.