Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughn, Jacqueline Bisset, Don Gordon, Robert Duvall, Simon Oakland, Norman Fell
Two and a half stars
If you want to know why 'Bullitt' is still considered a classic three
decades after its theatrical release, forward right up to the car chase
in Chapter 14. The sequence is a mini-movie in itself, with a moody
build-up that accelerates into a grueling, fierce and very convincing
duel on real streets. Watching this sequence reminds you that, once
upon a time, film action tried to make you imagine what it would be
like if you were part of it. This is not to denigrate the strides made
in action or effects, but in your heart of hearts, you know you're
never going to pilot the Millennium Falcon. Yet, the automotive combat
between San Francisco police detective Frank Bullitt (Steve McQueen)
and his adversaries is something you will contemplate next time you
step on the gas in your own car.
Frank Bullitt is a low-key, incorruptible type who runs into problems
when he's asked to baby-sit a mob informant. Almost under Bullitt's
nose, the informant is killed leaving his partner badly wounded and his
mission clear. He's got to find the culprits before he loses his job
and maybe his life.
If the above sounds like an episode of a TV cop show, that's because
it's pretty much how it plays. It's all too easy to guess who the real
bad guys are and McQueen's performance will strike some as the epitome
of macho cool while others little more than uninflected blandness.
Still, in fairness to the movie and the era it's from, when director
Peter Yates and screenwriters Alan R. Trustman and Harry Kleiner
adapted Robert L. Pike's novel 'Mute Witness' for the movies, they were
pioneering a style. In fact, Frank P. Keller even won the 1968 Oscar
for editing 'Bullitt.' Listen to the way dialogue overlaps, then gives
way to single sounds to create suspense in the emergency room sequence
in Chapter 6--at the time, this was novel, edgy stuff.
However, films and TV have since built on the innovations of 'Bullitt,'
incorporating its stylistic flourishes into stories with a lot more
dimension and substance. The car chase is an evergreen classic, the
plot is an unapologetic antique and whether or not you have a good time
here depends finally on whether or not you're nostalgic for the
no-frills type of detective thriller they don't often make anymore.
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