Bullitt ★★★★½

I wanted to get the New Year off on the right foot with the right movie, and boy did I pick a good one when I pulled Bullitt from the shelf this morning. From the too-cool-for-school opening credit sequence to the tarmac chase at the end, this thing is pure style from Point A to Point B.

Steve McQueen headlines as Frank Bullitt, a police lieutenant tasked with babysitting a mob witness for the sketchy Senator Super Nintendo Chalmers (Robert Vaughn). It's not long before the game changes, and Frank realizes all is not as it seems. He's driving blindly through a plot he must rush to understand, and we're in the passenger seat the whole way.

Bullitt is infamous for its ten minute car chase up and down the hilly terrain of downtown San Francisco, and boy is it a doozy. A perfectly rendered chunk of action that pulls us along for the ride, white knuckles be damned. I could feel my stomach churning with the POV shots as the car dips precariously over each hill, always with the threat that someone or something might be in the way, or that the car might simply lose control. This is the sort of scene that could carry a film by itself. I found myself wishing I could transport myself back to 1968 and see this on the big screen for the first time. Frankly, I'm jealous of anyone who got to have that experience.

Director Peter Yates does a good job of keeping the pulse pumping, but one of the secret ingredients is Lalo Schifrin's jazzy score. Maybe not as iconic as some of his more infamous work, this score serves Bullitt just right. It can be playful when the story calls for it, but also isn't afraid to ride as hard as the action does.

For his part, I don't think McQueen was ever cooler than he was in this. He's no nonsense, a man of action with measured strength and just the right undercurrent of vulnerability. You get the sense this character has seen too much and is weary of a broken world he'd rather leave behind. McQueen plays it perfectly. Robert Vaughn plays the corrupt politician with similar ease. I found it incredibly easy to root for McQueen as he outsmarted him at every turn.

Bullitt moves at the speed of a bullet, rarely letting up on the action. When it's not focusing on its next big set-piece, the plot contorts itself just enough to keep things surprising without feeling convoluted. This is simply a well composed dish that doesn't waste a single ingredient. What a great way to start the morning and to begin 2022. Happy New Year to all my Letterboxd pals!

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