I have no idea if writer/director Paul Solet’s decision to stuff Adrien Brody in a piano was a not so subtle homage to Roman Polanski’s The Pianist. I also wonder if Solet loved the wish fulfillment endings of Carlito’s Way or Point Blank, but that’s neither here nor there, as though Bullet Head offer a few cinematic call backs, it’s a movie that stands on its own feet – even if it begins with man’s best friend . . .
Our story starts off from the first person vantage point of De Niro, a pit bull who’s forced to fight for his own survival by vanquishing another canine. De Niro isn’t given a fair shake when it comes to his guardian, an unnamed, gun toting baddie played by Antonio Banderas. Dogs are a means to making money for this tough guy, so he’s not exactly a pet friendly type of dude.
Cut to the next sequence, as we are introduced to three criminals (John Malkovich, Adrien Brody, Rory Culkin) who are stuck in the warehouse where De Niro is left for dead by his handlers (Ori Pfeffer is the other person who is tasked with “taking care” of the pit bull). Gage (Culkin) is a drug addicted youth whose irresponsible behavior lead to the thieves’ current predicament (there is no moniker for either Brody and Malkovich’s characters). With their wheelman dead and the cops presumably not too far behind, the trio temporarily seek shelter as they wait to complete their mission.
If Bullet Head was simply a movie about a violent dog inflicting terror and bloodshed on a bunch of unsuspecting antagonists, the thriller would have succeeded as a pure piece of guilty pleasure entertainment. Though Soler infuses his narrative with a healthy amount of nail biting moments and solidly executed action sequences (which include the aforementioned piano moment), Bullet Head’s bread and butter lies in its surprisingly evocative storytelling.
As they await their fate, from either getting killed by De Niro or being caught by Johnny Law, the men reminisce about their own experiences with dogs. Malkovich, Culkin, and Brody all have their moment to shine within the film, as their respective back stories are both interesting and, in some cases, heartbreaking.
As the ne-er do well who you really don’t want on your side if you’re building a crime squad, Culkin delivers the movie’s most unexpected performance. Malkovich, who is usually a scene stealer even when he’s barely in the film (i.e. Unlocked), is more toned down in this feature as a man who’s resigned to his own unseemly profession (it’s a solid work from Malkovich, and it also brought to mind his underrated work as an inexperienced sheriff in the film noir thriller Cut Bank).
That being said, Adrien Brody as well as De Niro are the heart and soul of the story. Brody’s character believes this job is his last score, and a part of him is still looking to reunite with the love of his life. Before any of those goals can be fulfilled, he must make peace with De Niro or get mauled to death in the process. Plus, things get even more ramped up when Banderas and his bullets come roaring back into the warehouse. As for my previous Point Blank reference, please reference this article if you don’t mind spoilers.
I really loved the mult-layered storytelling in Bullet Head, as it succeeds as both an action thriller and a compelling drama. Most films will either do well in sacrifice of the other (i.e. Atomic Blonde – great action – mediocre storytelling), but Bullet Head succeeds on both marks. By the film’s final (and if you are a Point Blank type of dude – ambiguous) frame, I was really pleased with Bullet Head’s execution.
Running at 93 minutes and probably not playing at a huge mega-plex near you, Bullet Head is the type of movie that may get lost in the shuffle. But don’t let that happen. Find this movie and hopefully, whether you’re a dog lover or cinephile (or both!), Bullet Head may exceed your own expectations. I’ve roundly praised this movie, and even if you have high hopes for this flick, you probably won’t be disappointed either.
Bullet Head hits theaters and On Demand December 8.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Unfortunately I saw this film after the latest CinemAddicts episode was taped, but if you want to hear my reviews of The Post as well as my disappointment over The Shape of Water, take a listen below (Anderson Cowan also does a deep dive with The Killing of a Sacred Deer)!