Bottom Line: The eventual source of all cop thrillers.
Directed by: Peter Yates
Starring: Don Gordon, Ed Peck, Ed Renella, Georg Stanford Brown, Jacqueline Bisset, Norman Fell, Robert Duvall, Robert Vaughn, Simon Oakland, Steve McQueen, Victor Tayback
Dirty Harry. Die Hard. Speed. Heat. L.A. Confidential. The Departed. Rampart. All ye fans, gather, read, unite. This is your call to action. Bullitt is the godfather of the cop thriller. I mean that in the most literal sense: When filmmakers within the next half a century make plans to create a police thriller of their own, and all of the seven films named above from 1971 to 2012 seem a bit routine to innovate from, they will, without a doubt, turn to Bullitt. The problem is, filmmakers will never know they are doing so, because of how vastly the film surrounds the cop thriller in less than two hours. Moreover, we remember it, but not nearly enough. Detective Lieutenant John McClane, Inspector “Dirty Harry” Callahan, Lieutenant Frank Bullitt. Two of those three protagonists were heavily influenced by the other, and the same two, we jump to recognizing far more easily. I rest my case.
Bullitt is a slick, stylish thriller. Supported by a jazz-fueled score composed by Lalo “Mission: Impossible” Schifrin, and immaculate concentration on cinematography, the film works with much suspense, forty-four years later. It’s also made up of an unusually intellectual foreground. We can admit to the ideal cop thriller having a certain style, but rarely is one realistic, let alone comprehensible. The screenplay, an adaptation of Mute Witness by Robert L. Fish (under the fictitious surname Pike), is so natural, we barely realize how commonly the story itself has appeared nowadays: a cop–Lieutenant Frank Bullitt (Steve McQueen)–is focused on protecting a witness with important information, when all of a sudden the witness is murdered and his scopes shift toward searching for the killer. And let’s suppose Bullitt isn’t an inspiration to the countless novels, short stories, television shows, films, etc. that exhibit similar plots. It still does pretty damn well at bringing more excitement each minute. The climactic scene is only forgettable under the attainment of Alzheimer’s disease. Not until Casino Royale was produced almost four decades later did a chase scene even come within sight of the stupendously featured sequence here. You could argue that since Casino Royale‘s chase is a rather free running parkour all over Madagascar, and Bullitt‘s is a high-octane automobile dash through the streets of San Francisco, the two don’t even belong in the same league. After a few of the film’s more dramatic scenes, the ending is reached. Only then is the suspense brought to its more than satisfying pinnacle. Let’s place it up among the “baptismal shootings” in The Godfather, the “awards ceremony” in Star Wars, and the “missing Shape” in Halloween, as one of the greatest endings ever made. The only ways in which this ending differs from those are that it’s far more subdued, and–somehow!–filmmakers haven’t mistaken it as a notion to produce followups or remakes. It’s the kind of film that requires just an egg timer to record how quickly its legacy will disappear with the production of such unnecessary continuations.
Bullitt presents the cop thriller the same way Gone with the Wind and Casablanca presented the romantic drama. There is that slight possibility in mind that maybe it didn’t single-handedly found a genre we all recognize today, but when we try to “investigate” (no pun intended) further into the past, the results either aren’t likely to have ever bestowed any influence, or they merely aren’t there. Why this should ever be one of the most overlooked classics to date, is beyond me.