Classic Review: Bullitt

Stars:  **** out of 4

Summary:  A film so laid-back and slice-of-life it borders on surreal, while also boasting great action and suspense.

Review: Ah, the ’60s. The golden age of James Bond and the incubation chamber of the modern cop/spy/vigilante thriller movie. In 1968, we got ‘Bullitt’, in which Steve McQueen plays the titular character, an overly dedicated cop suspiciously similar, in some respects, to the future ‘Dirty Harry’. He plays his scenes with minimal to zero dialog but still exudes cool and draws sympathy from the audience. We never get to find out where Lt. Frank Bullitt came from, what he hopes for, what is the extent of his relationship with his girlfriend, what’s he really feeling about the whole mystery he’s pulled into. He’s an everyman.

Right from the opening titles, I was hooked.  The editing was especially strong and just watching names I won’t remember assume their positions on screen for a few moments was entertaining. The action moves at a steady and patient pace.  The cinematography keeps us interested even if there is nothing overtly important going on.  Lalo Schifrin’s jazzy, unforgettable score lets us feel the pulse of the film’s setting in San Francisco, lets us know the world we see on screen is alive and well.

Lt. Bullitt as the proto-Dirty Harry naturally comes into conflict with his superiors and with the politicians.  He stretches the rules and defies the tendency of the PD to kiss ass for support.  He doesn’t care about politics.  He cares about justice.  He never gives us a speech spelling himself out.  His best defense of his position, his grand apology, is when a politician played by Robert Vaughn insists that everyone must eventually compromise, and he simply says, “Bullshit.”  It’s the single best use of the word I’ve seen in a film.  His great weakness, however, is in the performance of his duty.  He’s surrounded by so much death, working in homocide, that he’s become distant and callous.  His ridiculously gorgeous and intelligent girlfriend calls him out on this.  He insists that he must keep going.  What Bullitt teaches us is that justice and truth are worth fighting for, but even the most noble can be scarred by the horrors of crime and deceit.

The chase sequences are incredible.  This was back in the day, man, when people actually drove cars in stunt scenes and let the audience see what the hell was going on.  The big car chase is sublime.  The various foot chases are similarly engaging.

This is a must see for fans of the ‘Bourne’ movies, ‘Dirty Harry’ movies, frak it, any action film fan needs to see this film.  This is a piece of art, ladies and gentlemen, this is a piece of perfect.

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