As promised (way back in the first post), here’s my review of Bullitt.
Directed by Peter Yates
Written by Alan Trustman and Harry Kleiner
Starring: Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughn, Jacqueline Bisset, Robert Duvall and Norman Fell (Mr. Roper)
Okay, here’s the deal. I was really excited to check this movie out. I’ve never seen a movie that Steve McQueen starred in and I’ve heard a lot about the famous car chase, plus I like movies where the cop has to take matters into his own hands to deliver justice. Now, on the negative side, I’ve also found that my attention span has dwindled pretty significantly and I have trouble staying up past midnight (because somewhere along the line, I turned into an old lady). That being said, a movie really has to grab my attention first, so I won’t go off and look at something shiny and second, so that I don’t fall asleep and unfortunately Bullitt did neither.
About 10 minutes into my viewing experience, I was already turned off by the crummy sound, which is pretty funny considering it was nominated for Best Sound in 1969. The quality’s great, but it’s one of those movies where you have to turn the volume up to hear the dialog and then get your ears blown up by a sound effect or the background music (which was a pretty rad jazz soundtrack).
Anyway, a few minutes after that I realized how atmospheric this movie is. By that I mean there’s a lot of space, the shots don’t get right in on the action necessarily, the music is sparse and there just wasn’t a lot for me to stay focused on.
At some point, I got distracted by an IM conversation, then tried to go back a few chapters to figure out what was going on, quit and went to bed. So, on day two, I was determined to start over and watch this movie. No such luck. I got the basic concept (I think): McQueen plays Bullitt, a cop who’s assigned to get a witness to the court on time. There’s some static from this huge d-bag named Chaumers, but beyond that, I’m not so sure. (Side note, this may be the worst review of all time and for that I apologize).
I did find myself transfixed by Bullitt as an image on the screen. There wasn’t a single point that I wasn’t looking at him like a superhero. He would have made a great Captain America or even Batman back in the day. He’s surprisingly quiet, but there’s a sense of danger surrounding him, making me feel like he would kick some ass at any time, any place (just like Cap). As an added superhero bonus, we even get to see him putting his “costume” (the black turtleneck and holster) on and getting his gear together. I love scenes like that in comics and superhero and action movies.
Which brings us to the car chase, which did not disappoint. From what I’ve read, the chase was a pretty big deal back in the day, one of the first big, awesome chases. I also read that Steve McQueen leaned towards the window of the car while driving so people would know it’s him. How freakin’ cool is that? Anyway, there’s a sense of realism to the car chase that made me stop everything I was doing and just watch. I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. It felt like I was watching a real car chase and, for whatever reason, I actually felt like something terrible could happen to Bullitt at any time. It’s a very visceral scene and I highly recommend at least checking IT out, if not the whole movie. After the chase is done, though, it got atmospheric again and I lost interest (and eventually fall asleep).
So, here’s why I don’t think I was able to get into Bullitt. First of all, and this is no fault of the movie’s, I feel like I’ve seen this movie a dozen times over and probably better done. I’m a big Dirty Harry fan, which came out after this and seems very influenced by Bullitt. But the simple fact that I saw it first means that it’s more in my headspace than Bullitt. Also, and again this is not the movie’s fault, but I was so looking forward to the chase scene that I just wanted to get there and skip the story. That one’s my bad, obviously. And finally, one of the aspects that I liked about the chase scene made the rest of the movie feel ultra slow and that’s the realism of it all. Unlike most action movies, I felt like this could all really happen, I mean, we’ve all seen car chases on Tru TV or Cops that look at awful lot like this one. But, the lack of more over-the-top moments made Bullitt feel a lot longer than it actually is.
To defend myself for just a moment, though, I do enjoy movies from this time period. I like seeing how things used to be a few decades back. Like the hospital scene was really interesting because it made me glad I wasn’t alive and sick in the late ’60s. I also like seeing San Francisco as the background. From what I read this was another first and influential element. This one just didn’t do it for me. But it didn’t turn me off from McQueen, I’ve got The Great Escape and The Getaway on my queue and will probably write them up whenever they come through. So, what do you think? I’m not sure how the comment section works, but if you E-mail me, I’ll post some of the messages on here and respond to them.
Also, get ready for another installment of Iron Mongering and a look back at The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles which I’m watching for the first time to get ready for Crystal Skull.