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Sunday, 8 December 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Bullet To The Head

Directed by: Walter Hill

Produced by: Miles Millar
Alfred Gough
Alexandra Milchan
Kevin King-Templeton
Joel Silver

Screenplay by: Alessandro Camon

Based on: Du Plomb Dans La Tete by Alexis Nolent

Starring: Sylvester Stallone
Sung Kang
Sarah Shahi
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
Christian Slater
Jason Momoa

Music by: Steve Mazzaro

Cinematography by: Lloyd Ahern II

Editing by: Tim Alverson

Studio(s): Dark Castle Entertainment
IM Global
After Dark Films

Distributed by: Warner Bros.

Release date(s): November 14, 2012 (Italy, Rome Film Festival)
January 29, 2013 (United States, New York, premiere)
February 1, 2013 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 91 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $55 million

Box-office revenue: $13, 751, 117

So, as I mentioned at the end of my last post, I'm drawing up a creative plan for 2014. The blog here has been an outlet for my creative impulses for seven years now, to the point that film reviewing is an extension of myself in some ways. Don't take that tone as some sort of end of an era or anything melodramatic of the sort, because despite my creative plan (which includes working at poetry, spoken-word music, a novella and screenwriting for my very own film projects, more of which in due time), I will continue to devote time to my blogging activities. It's nice knowing that even in periods of drought, drunkenness and artistic blocks I can always come back to this. Film reviewing is my thing, and I'm in it for the long run, so, as ever, keep your eyes posted!

Today's movie for review is Bullet To The Head, the film stars Sylvester Stallone in the lead role, and is based upon the French graphic novel Du Plomb Dans La Tete by Alexis Nolent. As you well know (both from my last review and various ramblings over the years), I have a soft spot for action movies, and I am a big fan of Sylvester Stallone. It's been no secret that Stallone has released his fair amount of tripe over the years, and yet I am still able to defend him with great vehemence. Indeed, my good friend over at Danland Movies, no serious man by anyone's standard, shows dismay at my enjoyment of Stallone's 2008 Rambo venture, which was largely derided and is by my own admission genuinely berserk. Indeed, the only Stallone movie I can say I actually dislike is Cobra, which is a horrendously dull bit of work. This film here is directed by Walter Hill, who made his name throughout the seventies, eighties and nineties with male-driven pictures steeped in ubermasculinity such as The Warriors, The Long Riders, 48 Hrs., Red Heat and Last Man Standing, so on paper he's a good fit for Stallone. Short synopsis? Yes, sir, I do think that'd be just cause. Stallone plays Jimmy Bobo, a hitman who after, completing a contract with his partner, is ambushed in the bathroom of a bar, managed to fight off the assailant while his partner is murdered unseen in the lively bar. Detective Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang) is the investigating officer on the hit committed by Bobo and his partner. After confronting Bobo, Kwon is attacked by corrupt cops on the payroll of those who both ordered the hit that begins the film and attempted to tie up a loose end in eliminating Bob and his partner. Bobo saves Kwon from certain death, and thus the cop and the con team up to take on the big fish(es) at the top of the ladder. Got that? Good!

Starting with the good, I thought that Sylvester Stallone and Sung Kang were good in the lead roles. Unlike Arnie, Stallone still takes roles that guys twenty years younger could fit into, but the fact is is that he's still in great shape and physically can pull it off. It's refreshing too to have Stallone play a character who is so thoroughly unrepentant, as opposed to the 'I've done terrible things and I'm haunted' trope that has been his primary M.O. since Rocky Balboa. Also, Sung Kang proves himself more than worthy in standing up to Stallone. Not only does his part bring some levity to the proceedings, but it feels legitimate when he's questioning the moral values of his counterpart. Rounding out the cast, Sarah Shahi brings a strength to the character of Lisa, while Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, a fine actor who deserves more and better work, is a solid and mysterious villain. Another praiseworthy aspect of the film is the cinematography from Lloyd Ahern. This is a hard-boiled, bad to the bone, no-BS kind of movie, and his photography matches that aesthetic. Steeped in shadows and darkness, it gives the film this dirty, neo-noir feel. This too is the case with the score from Steve Mazarro. A score with electric guitars driving forward the pace and harmonicas abound, it's interesting in that it sounds very much like a four or five member band just playing in a garage, and yet it still applies to the same rules as classical film scoring. Finally, Walter Hill should be credited for making the film as uncompromising as possible. It is brutal, violent, and the moral barometer of the film is all over the place. There's a brilliant point made by Chris Nashawaty of Entertainment Weekly, and I'd like to print the quote in whole: "Bullet To The Head doesn't try to adapt it's star to 2013. It just pretends we're still living in 1986. And for 91 minutes, it just about works." There are no bones made as what this movie is supposed to be and it is what it is. Also, those tattoos Jimmy Bobo has are awesome!

Now, Bullet To The Head has a number of things going for it, but it does have a good measure of problems, and I know I'm going for my usual target, but the script is the major issue at hand here. Written by Alessandro Camon, best known as a producer on films such as American Psycho and Werner Herzog's Bad Lieutenant, his stab at a screenplay is deeply flawed. For starters, the characterisation for most of the major supporting parts is simplified and undeveloped, not necessarily tropes, but still rather two-dimensional. For instance, the Jason Momoa antagonist Keegan is defined purely on the basis that he's big, surly and has a penchant for bloodshed, and we're supposed to believe that this character is a more charismatic leader than the hypnotic, golden-voiced Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje? Eh eh! Furthermore, I mentioned the noir feel of the film, and the script is one of those whiskey-soaked (Bulleit Bourbon, perhaps) remembrances of "this is a story of how I got mixed up in some dirty business and the shit really hit the fan." So the plot moves in and out, full of betrayal and bloodshed and what have you, but Camon makes it so unnecessarily convoluted. Furthermore, with so many different things happening, it not only lessens the impact of each following plot turn, but it also makes the thing cumbersome and predictable. For a movie that is so bold in many respects, Camon needs to stop trying to write like Ray Chandler and get to the point. Also, although I'm sure that some of this involved decisions made by others, I was not a fan of the editing by Tim Alverson. I know it's trying to be a sort of pulp fiction b-movie type of picture, but it clashes with the raw brutish of other aspects of its aesthetic. The use of stylistic tricks of the editing trade come to naught whenever they aren't used appropriately to any positive effect of a scene, but it also undermines other parts of the film when there's a lack of consistency involved. 

There's no doubt that Bullet To The Head isn't a fine bit of work. The screenplay, with flimsy two-dimensional characterisation and an unnecessarily over-plotted, way too convoluted story detracts from the weight of any potential character turns in the film. Furthermore, the stylised editing, which tries to give the movie a B-/exploitation feel is at odd with the raw aesthetic that is crafted by other departments. However, though it has problems, Hill's film has to be admired on a relative level for sticking to its guns and not be in any way a compromised picture. Stallone, in his best part for a good half decade, is a suitably gruff, hard-boiled anti-hero, and Sung Kang matches up well with him, believably challenging the older man on his moral codes and ethics. Also praiseworthy is the cinematography and music, which both appeal towards a dark, dingy neo-noir aesthetic. Finally, although it's by no means perfect (or that good, let's be honest), Hill delivers a passable and brutish action movie that is firmly rooted in the gratuitous but entertaining bloodshed and wanton destruction of 1980s Stallone Studio vehicles.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 5.4/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Ringing (DJ set last night at T13 killed my ears with bangin' beats!)

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