Star Rating: 2.5/4
Bullitt is without a doubt a stylish thriller with impressive technical achievements, but that's about it. The picture follows Frank Bullitt (Steve McQueen) as an esteemed police lieutenant in San Francisco assigned to protect Johnny Ross (Pat Renella), a former criminal turned federal consultant from harm. However, in his motel room, Ross is murdered by an unknown suspect. Bullitt sets out to bring the killer to justice only to discover that Ross wasn't who he was thought to be. Bullitt continues and shows us what it's like to be a cop but what more?
It's a case of mistaken identity that reminds me of Hitchcock's North by Northwest (1959) in a sense. Both films were released during the American Cold War period. As both protagonists get tied up in the suspense involving conspiracy, it ties back to the question of identity. For Frank Bullitt, he has done his job for a long time and remains indifferent to the unfortunate horrors he finds in his investigation. With McQueen's calm and cool demeanor, he portrays Bullitt as a casual observer who must resolve the whole conflict. He's not necessarily robotic but perhaps the character's mentality has to be repetitive as a way to cope with his every day tasks.
On the contrary, I have a feeling a car chase in the middle of San Francisco isn't an ordinary day for every cop in the United States. Yes, here we go with the chase. Don't get the wrong impression from me though, I was quite excited to watch it on the big screen and it lived up to the hype it gets. The scene is considered to be the greatest chase in film history and I understand that. The music builds up to the Charger and Bullitt's Mustang encountering each other to where it stops and we only bask in the roars of the engines. No dramatic score, no green screen, no visual effects or touch-ups, just clever planning with camera movements and nice editing. The funny thing is how the Charger blows up in the end of that scene. Since the Charger is now tied to those Fast and Furious movies, we could probably consider it a joke in terms of Bullitt's significance to pop culture as opposed to its rivals. Some coincidence, right?
The tension is everywhere thanks to its editing and score. Frank P. Keller's editing is one of the factors that adds to it. Bullitt takes its time to lead up to where it wants to surprise the audience. The length of it even reflects the protagonist's thought process to deducing new clues. As for the acclaimed car chase, it's as clean as the engines of the two muscle cars seemed to be. In terms of the score, the jazz approach is sleek. It gives it this noir feel which is a good match for Bullitt's role as an investigator and even goes well with McQueen's "King of Cool" persona.
Despite these aspects which are quite revolutionary in the action-thriller genre, especially those with cars in them, I'm not entirely sure of this film's purpose. It's based on a book by Robert L. Fish but what was his intention in writing it? Is it a comment on the Cold War in terms of being tied into conspiracy? Was it released the year it was to ponder one's identities of those times or is it just a simple story about a man wondering if he's a good guy or not? Anyone's guess is as good as mine. If it was more focused in its goals, I would have much more respect for it than I do already.
Also, I must say that I've become so used to action movies of this century that it feels strange for me to watch a feature from before my time. The genre today tries hard to get the thrills out of its viewers while Bullitt has a much more gradual pace. It may work for some but unfortunately, I haven't adjusted to it yet. However, that doesn't mean I'll disregard this movie from here on out. I'm sure I will give it another watch but that's for another time.