Bullet to the Head (2012)
Walter Hill is a director whose work is often overlooked or marginalised by critics who fail to appreciate its wider merits. Yet despite this, over the course of four decades he has consistently produced thoughtful, intelligent and sometimes positively subversive movies. He has a connection with the past and succeeds in creating stories that often reflect periods of transition and how such times effect the protagonists. There is no denying his flair for crating action sequences and frequently coaxes strong performances from actors, often with the minimum of dialogue. He also has a great understanding of the importance of a movies soundtrack and his collaboration with Ry Cooder has produced some memorable scores.
So, it was Walter Hill's name on the credits for Bullet to the Head that was my main interest. He has not made many movies of late, having focused on his television and movie production work. Naturally seeing his credentials attached to an action picture offered great promise, especially in an age when the art of making such movies is waning. However, I was well aware that the production of Bullet to the Head had not been a straight forward enterprise and that many individuals involved with the project had come and gone. Therefore, I was not expecting a movie comparable to 48 Hrs or Southern Comfort.
The story centres around hit man James "Bobo" Bonomo (Stallone) who is double-crossed by his employers, leaving his partner Louis (Jon Seda) dead. Jimmy has to form an uneasy alliance with cop Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang) as they go up against crime lord Morel (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and his enforcer Keegan (Jason Momoa). It's formulaic and strictly by the numbers with all the standard tropes of the buddy movie sub-genre. Cultural difference, borderline racism and snappy one liners. Bullet to the Head is exceeding conventional in its remit. Even the old plot device of a family member being kidnapped is thrown into the mix. Yet it is saved from totally mediocrity due to the charisma of Stallone, the banter between the main characters and the fact that even with such safe material, Walter Hill still manages to stamp his own brand on the action sequences.
The real selling points for Bullet to the Head are Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and Jason Momoa who manage to achieve performances of interest, despite the fact that the screenplay gives them little to go on. Alessandro Camon’s adaptation of Alexis Nolent’s graphic novel is perfunctory to say the least. Things like the use of voice-over to bridge the narrative are tired clichés. Yet every now and then there is a spark in the dialogue between leads or a nod and a wink to the old days of the genre. Overall, there are enough positive attributes to Bullet to the Head to cancel out its own stupidity and down play its familiar nature. Without the direction of Walter Hill, this movie would have been a misfire. The director has a flair for the excessive that few other film makers can get away with (like an axe fight). As it is, it’s a step down from Red Heat, which itself was inferior to 48 Hrs.