Saturday 2 February 2013

Bullet To The Head

Sly Noon

Bullet To The Head
USA 2013
Directed by Walter Hill
Playing at cinemas now.

Warning: There are some possible spoilers here, although you’ll probably figure them out anyway.

Based on Alexis Nolent's French comic book Du Plomb Dans La Tete, the new Stallone movie Bullet To The Head teams him up with veteran director Walter Hill in a join the dots, simplistic tale of a hitman and a cop who both find themselves without their partners, and who team up to catch the bad guys, who include crooked lawyers and the inevitable corrupt coppers. Yeah, okay, it’s a simplistic plot but, tellingly, it’s not as simplistic as a lot of Hollywood movie plots you get these days and that’s probably because the art of comic book storytelling is a lot more sophisticated, both intellectually and visually, than most films. It’s still quite predictable but the whole thing has a certain kind of style to it and I’m guessing at least some of that is informed by the comic that inspired it (I can’t tell for sure because, alas, I haven’t read it).

I already knew some of director Walter Hill’s work from days gone by so I wasn’t expecting it to be too terrible and... well it wasn’t too terrible, so that’s a relief. In fact, the film starts off with a degree of visual and audio elegance and ingenuity by having the company logos that everyone hates sitting through being pierced by a bullet which keeps coming through each of the logos towards the camera. This leads into a character awaiting another character near a train station and the rhythm of the train that goes by is beautifully incorporated into the rhythm section of Steve Mazzaro’s supporting score and this was another really nice touch. I wouldn’t say that the score would particularly be something I’d listen to as a stand alone but it was certainly an effective one for supporting the on screen action and this guy (this is his first full credit as composer on a feature) might well be someone to look out for in the future.

The movie is very interesting in that it’s always in motion, even during the shots where nothing much is going on or moving. The hand held camera style of TV shows like the Battlestar Galactica reboot and Firefly is somewhat present in this regard (although there were some shots where I personally thought this was a bit too much) but these are contrasted against different combinations of fast cuts and sweeping camera movements and it’s very hard to get a handle on just what the camera is going to get a focus on next. This, of course, makes the film a lot more interesting and gives it a very “fly on the wall” quality at certain points which the director then uses to ramp up the suspense.

There are a number of fight, shoot and chase style action sequences in the movie and although I fully believe Stallone could (and probably did, as it happens) handle all these himself, the way the action is edited is that the shots are quick ones punctuated by rhythmic edits which, again, ramp up the tension and in some cases bring to mind the early fight between Sean Connery and Robert Shaw on the train in From Russia With Love. There is a similar level of intensity on show here and it certainly works as an effective showcase of cinematic machismo... which I guess it what’s going to appeal to the kind of audience this kind of movie is aimed at.

Similarly, an axe fight near the end of the movie which looked like it would be really stupid on the trailer, is actually a tour de force lesson in how to build a fast paced fight up with a good choice of editing and it’s a ferocious affair with sparks flying and raw brutality which gave me a sudden flashback to Sly Stallone’s movie Cobra. Yeah, I know some of you people aren’t going to see a comparison to that particular movie as a good thing but... reader beware... I loved Cobra when I saw it back in a cinema in Llandudno in Wales back when it originally came out. So fair warning.

The performances in this movie are all pretty good, nobody’s phoning it in, and it was nice to be reminded that Christian Slater still exists, even if he was playing a less than sympathetic character. Everything gelled together well and I was pretty much entertained for it’s 90 minute running time, although I preferred the new Schwarzenegger movie (reviewed here). I do need to find out if computer memory sticks are really waterproof though, just so I know if I was being conned by a bad story glitch at one point.

All in all an okay movie that didn’t deserve a mostly empty cinema which didn’t even bother to run adverts in front of it for its first weekend (which is what happened when I saw it). I’m guessing this is the kind of film which will pick up the pace on DVD sales and rentals though, so I’m not too worried about it yet. Worth a look if action films are your kind of thing.

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