Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Chris 2010 Viewings #31: Bullitt

US, 1968. Directed by Peter Yates. Starring Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughn, Simon Oakland, cars.

Didn't think I'd like this one, because:

1) while I find Steve McQueen an agreeable film presence, I have to say the cult of McQueen is one of those things I find a bit mystifying.

2) all anyone ever says about it is that it has a great car chase sequence. I don't like cars, either in real life or movies. I don't even know offhand what the make of the car I drive is. You tell me I should watch a movie because it has a great car chase in it and I will make the same face that most customers make when I tell them Let the Right One In is a vampire movie, like it's Twilight or some such thing.

But this movie is actually pretty good. I almost went for "really good" there, but it is overlong. This is mostly due to a subplot regarding McQueen's relationship with pretty young thing Jacqueline Bisset, which exists solely to introduce the theme that McQueen walks on the dark side of life because he is a committed cop who has to see dead bodies sometimes and even put his jacket over them so that women and small children don't see the blood. This is silly and unnecessary and stops the movie dead several times. It could just have been about Steve McQueen being a cop who tries to protect a senate subcomittee hearing's star witness from the mob.

Truthfully, nothing else in the movie is as awesome as the opening credit sequence, before Steve McQueen even shows his face once. They are stylish and sharp and intriguing, and prominently feature striking imagery and Lalo Schifrin's super-groovy score. The plot setup that follows is solid and exciting, and hits few wrong notes as McQueen tries to do his job in spite of the mob and pushy senator Robert Vaughn. An unexpected plot twist or two pop up, which is nice; several expected plot twists do not, which is even nicer. Peter Yates had a great eye for detail at this phase in his career, a way of always putting the camera in an unexpected place or somewhere that adds to the intrigue of the scene at hand. Nicely played all around.

As for the car chase sequence, it is very good indeed. There are several sequences I like better (the chase in the hospital was more exciting to me, but keep my above car caveat in mind), but it's exceedingly well put together. Still, this sequence was responsible for so much cinematic evil in the years that ensued that I can't really get on its side. Nonetheless, Bullitt is a solid cop picture with some outstanding elements. I give it 7.5 stick shifts out of 10.

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