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His new assignment seems routine: protecting a star witness for an important trial. But before the night is out, the witness lies dying and cool, no-nonsense Detective Frank Bullitt (Steve McQueen) won't rest until the shooters - and the kingpin pulling their strings - are nailed. From opening shot to closing shootout, Bullitt crackles with authenticity: San Francisco locations, crisp dialogue and to-the-letter police, hospital and morgue procedures. An Oscar winner for Best Film Editing (1968), this razor-edged thriller features one of cinema history's most memorable car chases. Buckle up...and brace for unbeatable action.
For more about Bullitt and the Bullitt Blu-ray release, see Bullitt Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on June 16, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Director: Peter Yates
Writers: Harry Kleiner, Alan R. Trustman
Starring: Steve McQueen, Jacqueline Bisset, Robert Vaughn, Don Gordon, Simon Oakland, Norman Fell
» See full cast & crew
Bullitt Blu-ray Review
"You believe what you want. You work your side of the street, and I'll work mine."
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, June 16, 2009
I'm going to make a bold prediction here. In one hundred years, when the earth has exhausted its petroleum resources and we're all driving hydrogen-powered flying cars, oil-punk will replace steampunk as the sci-fi genre that most glorifies our industrial past. When this happens, mark my words, Bullitt will be viewed as a cult fetish in the same way that steam aficionados adore Jules Verne, and Steve McQueen will be the movement's mythologized Captain Nemo, forever perched behind the wheel of his iconic Ford Mustang. I'm calling it now, so start writing your oil- based, alternate-past fiction while the genre is hot. For reference, along with Mad Max and American Graffiti, you'd be wise to examine Bullitt, the prototype for tire squealing, muscle-car cool.
For such a well-known and time-honored film, Bullitt's plot is cloudy and forgettable. Detective Lieutenant Frank Bullitt (Steve McQueen) is charged with protecting a Mafia stool pigeon for the 48 hours before the snitch goes to trail. The man gets gunned down in his seedy hotel room, however, and Bullitt must try to find the killers while also deflecting inquiries by Walter Chalmers (Robert Vaughn), an up-and-coming politician who stands to gain if the informant tattles on the mob in court. Many of the characters are unmemorable, Bullitt's love interest is a lacking, last minute addition, and the finer points of the caper are vague and not easily followed. Bullitt, however, is not a film you watch for its story. It's not a gripping yarn or a passionate character study. With a few major exceptions, it's not even that engaging. Bullitt is remembered today for two reasons: a bad-ass Steve McQueen, and the most influential and groundbreaking car chase in cinema history.
Just look at him. Look at Steve McQueen. Watch the intense interiority, the caged tension in his purposeful gait. Through those bright blue eyes you can almost see the mental clockworks turning with Swiss precision. I mean, come on, this is what every man wants to be—man's man, ladies' man, man about town in an awesomely bitchin' ride. When Steve's star power was in ascendance, no one could touch him, and he was never higher than in Bullitt. McQueen doesn't have much dialogue here—he liked to claim he was a reactor, not an actor—but he chews up every scene he's in with a brooding ferocity that's strictly his own. Daniel Craig's brutal and chilly Bond owes everything to Steve McQueen, and Hollywood bad boys like Colin Farell and Brad Pitt can only ape his original, effortless cool.
The film's nine-minute car chase has also been widely imitated, as it effectively raised the bar for every action film thereafter. Even today it retains a whiplash-inducing sense of speed, without any of the jarring quick cuts that characterize more modern offerings like The Fast and the Furious or the Bourne trilogy. The excitement, however, does come with a price. The chase is positioned as Bullitt's literal centerpiece, effectively putting the breaks on the rest of the film, which just isn't interesting enough to sustain the audience's attention. This is particularly damning, because the foot-based chase that ends the film—a big budget airport sequence that's intended to be excited—comes off as, well, pedestrian.
Bullitt Blu-ray, Video Quality
For some reason, I never warmed to Bullitt's 1.78:1 1080p VC-1 transfer. While it's certainly serviceable, and likely the best that the film will ever look, the first act gave me a minor headache. Black levels are overwhelming at times, and I found myself squinting in vain to make out details that simply aren't present in the prevalent shadows. Contrast, especially in the earlier outdoor scenes, is much too hot—the sky comes across as a blinding white while the actors faces are cloaked in shade, a balancing issue that could've been easily remedied by some subtle fill lighting. Realism is what Steve McQueen sought in this film, however, and Director Peter Yates employs verite cinematography that has little use for carefully constructed lighting schemes. The film is awash in heavy, but not distracting grain, and on the whole is far softer than it is sharp. Colors are generally strong, however, if a bit oversaturated, and the clarity of the game- changing car chase is better than ever.
Bullitt Blu-ray, Audio Quality
For a film that should throttle and growl with a thick automotive rumble, Bullitt's Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track whines as its audio engine tries desperately to turn over and engage. It's a listenable mix, sure, and there are no major aural disasters, but the track has a compressed, lifeless feel that is nothing more than dull. The opening score is a good indication of the brittle highs and unsubstantial bass. Voices lack crispness, sound hollow, and it's often obvious which ones have been looped in during post-production. Most disappointingly, when the two cars play dueling engines during the chase scene, I found myself longing for a rounder, throatier purr.
Bullitt Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Bullitt: Steve McQueen's Commitment to Reality (480i, 10:14)
This vintage promo paints Bullitt as the most unflinchingly real Hollywood production ever. The claim is a little laughable now, but this short featurette does deliver some cool behind- the-scenes footage, and a few guarded insights into the filming of the chase sequence.
Steve McQueen: The Essence of Cool (480i, 1:27:03)
A doozy of a documentary, this is the gleaming hood ornament of Bullit's supplementary features. Presented by Turner Classic Movies, The Essence of Cool is a thorough examination of the life and career of Steve McQueen. Alec Baldwin talks about McQueen's style and masculinity, Richard Attenborough discusses how they met during The Great Escape, and Steve's former wife, Neile Adams, is present throughout to give insights into their personal life. Several friends and co-workers crop up here, the three most memorable being Steve's karate instructor and two charming old stunt men. The documentary is unafraid to broach McQueen's darker side—his drug use and womanizing—and this keeps The Essence of Cool on an even and interesting keel.
The Cutting Edge: The Magic of Movie Editing (1080p, 1:39:23)
Only briefly mentioning Bullitt, this Starz-network documentary chronicles the progression of movie editing—"the invisible art," as editors like to say—from Edwin S. Porter's early shorts to the Wachowski brothers' Matrix films. Narrated by Kathy Bates, The Cutting Edge features interviews with Jodie Foster, Anthony Minghella, Sean Penn, James Cameron, Quinton Tarentino, and Steven Spielberg, among many others, and it also follows editor Walter Murch as he pieces together Cold Mountain in Final Cut Pro. I'd probably pay to own this documentary on its own, so it's kind of Warner to include it here, even though it only marginally relates to Bullitt.
Commentary by Director Peter Yates
Yates flounders his way stodgily through this commentary, a track that firmly belongs in that "why don't I put this on in the background while I clean the living room" category. Real insights are few and far between, and while not a bad commentary track, per se, it's simply not lively enough to hold attention throughout the film's two hour running time.
Theatrical Trailer (480i, 2:52)
Bullitt Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Oil is on its way out, and with the recent restructuring of GM, the auto industry may never relive another halcyon era like the one that produced Bullitt's sleek Ford Mustang. So get started on your oil-punk graphic novel masterpiece before someone else beats you to it, and loop Bullitt's chase scene in the background for appropriate atmosphere. It's not the tightest thriller of its decade, and it won't ever be featured in Masterplots, but just as Blow- Up, Michelangelo Antonioni's mod classic, is a time capsule of London's swinging sixties, Bullitt is an iconic representation of classic American muscle, both in its sinewy automobiles and the aloof charisma of Steve McQueen, its sex-symbol star.
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