Movie of the Week – Bullitt (1968)
People poke fun at this movie. They say the plot is practically nonexistent. They say it’s all about that sequence in the middle (you know the one). But if you watch it from beginning to end and pay attention, I mean really pay attention, it does make sense. There’s more to it than just that sequence in the middle.
First of all it’s worth watching for Steve McQueen at his most Steve McQueenish. Minimalist, the very definition of grace, acting with a look here, an expression there. I sound gay don’t I. But I’m not. You know what they said about James Bond. Women want him. Men want to be him. The Sean Connery James Bond, the Bond of From Russia With Love, not that silly foppish Bond of… Well, enough about that. What was I talking about? Oh yes. Bullitt.
The story is about a mob witness under protection who gets killed. A slimy politician (Robert Vaughn always looked slimy) is not happy. Things are not what they seem. A cop with integrity who won’t kowtow to the politician, who is in trouble with his superiors, who is going to do his job no matter what. Familiar, cliched, done many times before. But there’s more to it than that. Frank Bullitt lives in two worlds, police detective and the world of his girlfriend where people don’t carry guns and there are no dead bodies.
So there are conflicts with the bad guys, with the politician, with his superiors, with his girlfriend as she comes to understand what his world is like. And conflict with himself. The movie ends with Bullitt looking at himself in the mirror thinking about what kind of person he has become. The last shot is of his holstered gun with bullets laying on top of it.
So the movie can be experienced on many levels. It can… Oh heck. Okay, okay, it’s about The Chase. 100 mph through the streets of San Francisco. I think it’s Jerry Bruckheimer that has specialized in car chases through city streets in recent years. But they are all kinetic energy and swirling action. You can’t see what’s going on. In Bullitt you can see what’s going on all the time. Because that really did it. Power drifting through city intersections. Flying over hills. If this was done in IMax you would have to have a barf bag at every seat. Dodge Charger and Mustang. No stripes, no flames, no blingy wheels. The Mustang is Frank Bullitt, is Steve McQueen. I want a Bullitt Mustang.
So watch the movie for the story, for the subtle undertext, for the… All right. Just watch it for the Chase.