Starring Adrien Brody, John Malkovich, Rory Culkin, Antonio Banderas
Directed by Paul Solet
Those who know me or follow me on Twitter know that I have a dog. I’ve had this dog, Dante, for just over a year but I’d been wanting him for years prior to that. Owning a dog was a goal of mine and this little poop factory brings me nothing but joy and fills my heart with love. That’s why I approached Paul Solet’s new film Bullet Head with hesitance and even a sense of trepidation.
Marketed as “Cujo meets Reservoir Dogs“, Solet’s latest film follows three career criminals who take refuge in an abandoned factory immediately following a heist so as to evade police and figure out what their next steps will be. Inside, they stumble across evidence that the building serves as an underground venue for dogfighting, including stumbling across tens of thousands of dollars. However, they quickly realize that they’re not alone when a dog, one that was supposed to have been put down after being badly injured during a match, begins chasing them down one-by-one. Furthermore, the owner of the dog (Banderas) shows up to collect his money and becomes rather irate when he realizes these men have stolen it all.
What is little more than a razor-thin plot is milked for all its worth as Solet, who also wrote the film, spends a great deal of time developing these characters to give them greater depth than one would expect – including the dog. Brody’s “Stacy” is a man whose broken heart leaves him locked in this world of crime, where serving time in jail is as common as taking out the garbage. Malkovich’s “Walker” is the patriarch of the group, the one whose wisdom and age is respected by Stacy, although not so much the Culkin’s “Gage”, the drug-addled “younger brother” of the operation whose inexperience and rash thinking leads to nothing but trouble. As for the dog “De Niro”, we are quite literally able to see through his eyes as Solet crafts sequences from his perspective, giving weight and pain to a world of dogfighting that, at least to my knowledge, as never been so devastatingly realized in cinema.
Obviously, a film like this can’t be one unending chase sequence, although Solet has no problem taking us through claustrophobic and dilapidated hallways at breakneck speed. There has to be a rhythm and balance to the tension and release, a feat that Solet certainly nails. When we’re not faced with De Niro, we hear three stories, one from each character, that go into their relationship with animals. The stories range from charming to heartbreaking, one about doing a heist for truffles, one about getting a daughter a Christmas gift, and one about doing what it takes to protect a dog from coming to harm.
The purpose of these stories is not only to be charming but to constantly remind us of the value and importance of animals in our lives, of how they can change us, teach us, and make us better people. This is vital to Bullet Head because the only true “hero” of the film is De Niro. Solet, whose love of animals shines through the film, makes every effort to paint De Niro not as a villainous beast but rather as a sympathetic creature, one that was molded into a fighter by the cruelty around him. Even during De Niro’s most vicious moments, I never saw him as being evil.
A word of warning: with a film such as this, there is going to be heavily implied animal violence. Solet realizes that the idea of such an abhorrent act is just as effective as showing any such incidences, so there’s no animal-on-animal violence present on screen. That being said, it’s a movie about a dog hunting criminals, so don’t live under any illusions that there are those left unscathed.
Ultimately, Bullet Head is a movie with an almost laughably simple story that not only defies expectations but creates something powerful, memorable, and quite emotional. Don’t be surprised if you have a tear or two in your eyes when the credits begin to roll. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to hug Dante for the next hour or so.
Tightly contained, surprisingly emotional, and undeniably entertaining, Bullet Head is a film that should not go unseen. That being said, if you love dogs as much as I do, bring a box of tissues.
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