If you want to know why Steve McQueen is STEVE MCQUEEN, this cop thriller is a good place to start. As Detective Frank Bullitt, McQueen is as cool as they come. Men want to be him; women want to have him; and no one wants to get on his bad side.
Bullitt is a San Francisco cop who is tasked with protecting a Mob witness so the guy can testify. Despite the protection, Mob hit-men manage to get to the guy. With egg on his face, Bullitt sets out to catch the hit-men. The search culminates in an iconic movie car chase through the hilly streets of San Francisco, with Bullitt in his Ford Mustang pursuing the hit-men in their Dodge Charger. The famous scene is long, heart-pounding, and thrilling, with the cars reportedly topping 100 mph at times. It has become a piece of muscle-car history.
The only weak point in the film is Jacqueline Bisset, as Bullitt’s wife. If she just walked around wearing nothing but a button-down shirt, it would have been fine, but the problems start when she opens her mouth. Her beauty doesn’t compensate for her poor acting, and the film tends to grind to a halt during her scenes. Fortunately, the rest of the film is captivating, an engrossing piece of action-noir. Besides that car chase, there is a great foot chase through the airport tarmac. “Bullitt” also works well as a police procedural, as Bullitt methodically retraces his murdered witness’s tracks to solve the case.
“Bullitt” tries, in a clumsy way, to get philosophical. The film’s noir edge comes from the fact that Bullitt is completely surrounded by evil in various forms. From the Mob hit-men to the low-life witness to a sleazy politician, there is no one to root for but Frank Bullitt. In one scene, Bullitt’s wife berates him for becoming as cold and callous as the world in which he works, but the scene is clunky due to Jacqueline Bisset’s acting. The theme is better handled obliquely in the rest of the movie, as at the end, when Bullitt washes his face and looks in the mirror, probably wondering if he can ever feel clean again.
4.5 stars out of 5