Bullitt (1968) 4.57/5 (1)


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Rating: The Good – 85.7
Genre: Crime, Thriller
Duration: 114 mins
Director: Peter Yates
Stars: Steve McQueen, Jacqueline Bisset, Robert Vaughn

Near-peerless crime thriller about a San Francisco Police Lieutenant charged with protecting a key witness in a case against the mob. When that witness is murdered under curious circumstances, Lieutenant Bullitt freezes out the heavy political interests (chiefly Robert Vaughn’s self-motivated politician) so that he can find out what exactly is happening and who is responsible.

Though remembered mostly for its great car chase (and it is great), Peter Yates’ film is a sublimely intelligent thriller that resists all temptations to signpost or summarise its plot developments for the audience. This can result in long stretches without dialogue but if there was ever an actor to carry a film on subtle mannerisms alone it was Steve McQueen. McQueen is ice cool in the title role and as always, he brings something different to a well established role. As most of the action focuses on his Lieutenant Bullitt, the supporting actors don’t have much to do with the exception of Robert Vaughn who excels as the detestable politician out to make a name for himself and Jacqueline Bisset as his girlfriend. It’s through this latter character that Yates and his writers Alan Trustman and Harry Kleiner channel the film’s more considered themes. This grounds the film somewhat and allows it to play on a more subjective level.

Bullitt is a richly textured crime movie that seems steeped in the style of late 60’s cinema while also voicing the sentiments of the decade it was steadily heading towards. Full of shady politicians, ruthless mobsters, and edged heroes with a healthy disrespect for authority, Bullitt might even be viewed as the first real “70’s movie”. Many of that decade’s classics would be marked by a similarly implicit sense of paranoia and mistrust in their institutions and hierarchies. Peter Yates sets these tones and themes early on with an iconic yet impenetrable opening sequence (helped wonderfully by Lalo Schifrin’s score) and continues to propagate them during the remainder of the film. The skewed manner in which he shoots the film, full of hard to hear dialogue, sharp angles, and curious cuts accentuates these themes and in retrospect, seemed to inform the direction of such classics as The Parallax View and The Conversation.

Bullitt isn’t a film which will appeal to everyone’s tastes especially for those who are only interested in car chases. But if you like clever, slow-burning thrillers with a touch of the iconic about them, then this is definitely the film for you.

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