Bullitt (1968) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

More than just a Mustang vs Charger film – this is a lesson in how to do a cool cop gone rogue film

29 June 2020

Warning: Spoilers

Steve McQueen is San Francisco cop, Lieutenant Frank Bullitt. He is charged with keeping Johnny Ross safe, a Chicago mobster who is going to turn in evidence against his underworld employers. It has all been organised by up-and-coming politician Walter Chalmers (Robert Vaughn), who’s career is about to take him to the top of San Francisco’s political sphere. As events unfold, Bullitt feels that something isn’t right, so he takes matters into his own hands.

This is a cool cop gone rogue film, in fact it’s one of THE cool cop gone rogue films. McQueen’s portrayal of Bullitt came well before the likes of Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman in The French Connection), Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy in Beverley Hills Cop), Jack Carter (Michael Caine in Get Carter), Riggs and Murtaugh (Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon) John McClain (Bruce Willis in Die Hard), “Dirty” Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry)… before Chuck Norris went rogue, before Steven Segal kicked ass, before the Equalizer went off the map, before these and many many more too.

A lot of people wrongly assume this is an out-and-out car chase film. It’s true that there is an epic Mustang vs Charger chase, but there is a whole lot more to this move.

As Bullitt, McQueen is gritty and tough, he’s cool and uncompromising. The supporting cast all do great jobs; Vaughn is charismatic but also sleazy and untrustworthy; Don Gordon (Bullitt’s long suffering by trusty partner) gives a great account of himself as both hard-working and tired at the same time – but totally committed to his partner; Simon Oakland is great as Bullitt’s boss Captain Bennet, who knows well enough to trust his maverick lieutenant. Even minor characters deliver decent performances; Robert Duvall is great as a straight to the point Taxi driver; Jacquline Bisset as Bullitt’s love interest is relatively naïve to the world her man lives in (at first anyway); even newcomer Georg Stanford Brown is great as overworked and underappreciated Dr Willard who sees in Bullitt somebody he can trust to get justice.

Directed by British born Peter Yates, this American cop film feels more European in its stylistic approach, with its wonderful jazzy soundtrack (courtesy of Lalo Schifrin) and well-constructed cinematography. This film feels like it could be right out of London’s colourful and hip swinging sixties, a testament to what Yates and the production team have created. You won’t find many special effects here like you would in modern films, this stylish film relies on a good plot and good old-fashioned techniques to deliver itself to the audiences. It doesn’t rely on blowing everything to pieces, there aren’t hundreds of cars piling up, there aren’t random twists for the sake of it – just realistic outcomes, real situations and consequences (the later of which seems to be missing from modern rogue cop films). One of the things that McQueen insisted on, and Peter Yates was fully supportive or and behind too, was authenticity; the streets are real, the car chase are real, the locations were real, characters aren’t all superheroes that can be shot to pieces but still run marathons – no studio settings, no CGI car chases (FTR this is still one of the fastest “Mansell Road chases ever filmed, and there have now been a fair few!). This authenticity led to McQueen losing a 6-movie contract but stood him up as a true artistic vehicle for this film and others too. The long-standing appeal of the film has earned a lot of credit for Peter Yates and Steve McQueen for sticking to their artistic integrity and doing things the old-school way.

If you come to this film purely for the Mustang vs Charger chase you will be disappointed, this film is much much more than that – character development, a decent plot, twists, action, adventure, emotions. Even by today’s standards it’s a great film… in fact the only thing that would be different if you take this film out of the 60’s and put it into today’s market is that they would have smart phones and as such might not need to make as many stops to public phones.

Bullitt is a great film and I’d highly recommend it to others, whether you are looking for a film for a lazy Sunday, or an action film for a Friday night – Bullitt is definite go-to film.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (9/10)

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