Bullitt ★★★★


[originally written on my blog]

Astonishing to think that a movie like this could have been a hit once, thrilling car chase or no. (Adjusted for inflation, it grossed roughly $120 mil.) I'd dimly remembered it as being faintly dull whenever hubcaps aren't flying, and now I see why: Yates deliberately flattens everything into a near-autistic level of procedural concentration, creating a stealth character study that grows steadily in power as McQueen's canny non-performance just keeps yielding nothing. That car chase acts as a single enormous spike in an EKG that's otherwise strictly horizontal; even Robert Vaughn's unctuous, interfering pol, last seen perusing the Wall Street Journal in the back of a limo, brushes the movie off his trousers like so much lint after being defeated. Scene after scene is uninflected to the point of seeming perverse. I even briefly thought Jacqueline Bisset's freakout when she sees Frank unaffected by some woman's corpse would play without dialogue, shot from a distance—that approach didn't seem remotely out of character. Alas, someone clearly felt the need to throw the audience at least one tiny bone, so Bisset (whose character otherwise has no function) does get a too-pointed speech accusing him of being inhuman, to which he responds with predictable indifference. Thing is, though, while we can admire Bullitt's integrity and professionalism, his laconic terseness, unlike Eastwood's, isn't remotely "cool," which the film's amazingly prosaic final shot seems to recognize. He doesn't even get to toss out a few unconvincing "I love you"s, like Carol in Safe. But he's just as much of a hollow shell.

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