22 October 2011


Bullitt, directed in 1968 by Peter Yates, features Steve McQueen as Lieutenant Frank Bullitt, a well-known and respected detective assigned to protect key witness, Johnny Ross, for an important trial. But trouble arises as Frank’s defenses are broken and he finds his key witness fatally wounded. As Frank attempts to track down the men who attacked Ross, he begins to suspect that things are not as they seem.

Although Bullitt is known for its famous car chase scene (with Frank Keller winning an Academy Award for Best Film Editing), he also skews cuts to highlight Frank. The majority of Bullitt is filmed in the Hollywood style, some cuts are more noticeable than others. The cuts that I am referring to are the ones that constantly bring the viewer’s attention to Frank’s face. Frank is constantly shown with a hard determined look on his face, though this subtly changes throughout the film. At the beginning, Frank can actually be caught smiling in some scenes! His relationship with Cathy, a free spirited artist, brings the slightest amount of joy to Frank’s life. While at a restaurant, Frank keeps glancing at Cathy, trying desperately to catch her eye. As she looks round and meets his gaze, a shy smile crosses her face, which he returns just as shyly. The next scene cuts to Frank answering a call from Inspector Stanton, the babysitter for Ross, with Cathy laying in bed next to him. Cathy inquires what the phone call was about, but Frank is determined to keep her out of the business of his work.

Keller loves Frank’s face and he makes sure that it is center of attention, even when Frank isn’t. During the scene where Stanton and Frank first meet Ross, Stanton and Ross are heard talking in the middle of the room. But instead of the camera focusing on the two in conversation, or at least involving a full room shot, the focus is on Frank observing the hotel room. Later, as Stanton lays on the hospital bed in the operating room, the camera jumps back and forth between the Stanton’s medical procedures and Frank’s demeanor. Frank’s face is severely grim, as it well should be as a member of his team lays severely wounded. Then, as the doctors try and save Ross during a cardiac arrest, Frank’s face initially shows his hope. But as the heart monitor sounds the beep of Ross’ heart stopping, Frank’s face changes to a strong determined look that lasts throughout the remainder of the film.

As Frank continues to unravel the mystery of who is trying to kill Ross, and who this Ross character actually is, Cathy once again tries to get involved. Frank follows a lead to a woman in a motel but finds her strangled on the floor. Frank is explaining the situation over the phone to someone with almost an expressionless face until he sees Cathy standing in the doorway. Cathy stood visibly distraught in the doorway until Frank blocked her view from the woman on the floor and drove her down to the water’s edge, where Cathy confesses, "I thought I knew you. But I’m not so sure anymore. Do you let anything reach you? I mean really reach you. Or are you so used to it by now that nothing really touches you? …. With you, living with violence is a way of life. Living with violence and death… How can you be part of it without becoming more and more callous?… Your world is so far from the one I know…"

The entire time, Frank is listening to her with a hard look on his face. He shows no sign of regret or remorse or any sign of emotional acknowledgement to her. He is emotionally cut off from all temptations to come out of the sewer that he lives in. It’s not until the very last scene of the movie that we see any sign that Frank is still emotionally active. Frank opens the door to his bedroom to find Cathy sleeping with a slight smile on her face. He quietly shuts the door and walks into the bathroom, and we see for the first time a look of sadness instead of his strong determination. The camera focuses in on his detective weapons, and he is reminded how different he is from Cathy.

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