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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Cheap, Twisted, and Extraordinarily Potent "Bulletproof Heart" A Completely Sick Love Story for Valentine's Day

"Bulletproof Heart" 1996. Anthony LaPaglia stars as a mob hit man, Peter Boyle as his contractor, Matt Craven as his drooling sidekick, Mimi Rogers as his mark.

Very stripped down movie. Only (roughly) eight people have any kind of speaking parts. Only four sets.

A noir, of course. You know when you pick up a movie like this, just from looking at the box, even if you couldn't read the blurbs, that it's a noir. He, very unsmiling, has got his black hair slicked back; sultry she is in a low-cut sequined dress; the spotlight is on his big, shiny gun.

It is a B movie. One feature that separates B movies from A's is editing. Someone needed to step in and arrest scenes that went more or less like this: "You have to kill her." "I don't want to kill her." "You have to kill her." "I don't want to kill her."

And someone needed to snip bits where the movie tells rather than shows. LaPaglia is reduced to verbally explaining that he is an amoral hit man, after the movie has already sufficiently shown that he is an amoral hit man. An A movie would have just shown him being an amoral hit man, and skipped the didactic speech explaining what the viewer has just seen.

The direction was thoroughly flatfooted. Director Malone seems to hate three-dimensional space. Actors were placed within it the way figures are placed on ancient altar triptychs. They are in the center of a rectangular frame; they occupy three quarters of the screen; and they are shown full front. Snore. And I never got a sense of any space any character occupied other than that necessary to create the rectangular frame around that rigid composition.

Having said all that, I've gotta say, this movie wrecked me. I cried. I was tremendously moved. I kept thinking of Noel Coward's famous line, "Extraordinary how potent cheap music is." There were two hit men, and I identified with – and actually pitied – both of them.

LaPaglia has to kill Mimi Rogers. He arrives at her apartment and a sexual game right out of a Strindberg play begins. Who has the power? Who is afraid of whom? Who is killing whom? Who is resurrecting whom? This all sucked me in. It had genuine tension. Neither overplayed, but you could see the shifts on LaPaglia's face, from amoral hit man to possible prey animal to something entirely other.

I was a bit put off by Mimi Rogers' acting at first. When she wanted to emote, her eyebrows began to jerk and quiver as if they were caterpillars being directed by an offstage wild animal trainer. But she grew on me.

She seduces him. The director did handle the intimate scenes well. If I said I came three times, would that turn this review into something other than an intellectual discussion of a movie? Not knowing the answer to that, I won't say it.

La Paglia and Rogers develop fantastic chemistry. It seems to grow, in a real way, out of their peculiar situation.

La Paglia is given a few chances to deliver the kind of witty and surprising speeches hit men deliver in gangster film noir. They are surprising, of course, because you have this totally exotic creature, a hit man, speaking about banalities we all share, like the boredom that sometimes comes with doing the same work day after day, and surprising because they offer a chance for identification with such an exotic, condemned creature, and surprising because you begin to identify, to see the world through his eyes, "Oh, yeah, if I look at it that way, being a hit man makes perfect sense!" to see how his world and your world aren't so different.

And surprising because you begin to see how his morality could be superior to that of someone who has a more conventionally valorized way of making a living – Mimi Roger's psychiatrist, for example, is shown to be a real sleaze -- and even murderer -- in comparison to LaPaglia.

Rogers and La Paglia begin a dialogue on the worth of human life. And, I gotta tell ya, for all the guns and the really good sex, that's what got me. These dialogues and scenes aroused in me confrontations with my own thoughts and feelings about life, death, murder, suicide, love, the human capacity for regeneration, faith, hope, investment, what we expect / need from people we love … what we need / expect from film noir – a very important question !!! I don't wanna give too much away, here.

There is a genuinely, darkly funny moment when Mimi Rogers shrugs and says, "Men." You have to see the movie, and you'll know what I mean.

This is exactly the kind of movie I think of when I think of people who walk out of movies and drive me crazy by saying something like, "Hey, that was nice. Wanna go get something to eat?" and more or less abort any conversation about the movie. If a date said that to me after this movie, I'd have to be physically restrained. This is the kind of movie I'd have to talk about afterwards. Really, this may sound sacrilegious, but it's the kind of movie that leaves me with a feeling close to reverence – like, after seeing it, I need to inhabit a liminal zone before I segue back into real life. 

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