J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

DWF ’18: Chasing Bullitt

The remake of The Thomas Crown Affair was pretty good and the unnecessary redo of The Magnificent Seven did not ruin any careers, but they are really pushing it with the new PapillonLe Mans is the one Steve McQueen film that probably will never get rebooted. Even before it was released, bad word of mouth dogged McQueen’s passion project. It was an awkward juncture for his career, but rather than restoring his mojo, McQueen is obsessively searching for the classic Mustang GT 390 from his 1968 mega-hit in Joe Eddy’s Chasing Bullitt, which premieres during this year’s Dances with Films.

Le Mans is considered dead in the water, but Steve McQueen is still Steve McQueen. He is attached to Junior Bonner, Papillon, and The Getaway. The one he says yes to gets made. However, he is not eager to get back to work. He is still bitter over losing control of Le Mans and his marriage is hanging by a thread. McQueen will not make a decision until his agent tracks down the Mustang that got away from him after the filming of Bullitt (celebrating its 50th anniversary this October).

Of course, he really wants that car, because he is Steve McQueen, but it is also a convenient stalling tactic. As he tracks down a lead, he will ruminate on his bitter possible break-up with his first wife, Neile Adams, as well as the counseling sessions that he so clearly resented. Essentially, Chasing Bullitt is a memory play that you could almost mount on-stage if cars did not play such a significant role.

Andre Brooks really is a spooky dead-ringer for McQueen and he quite successfully approximates of sense of his potent presence, without descending into shticky mimicry. In fact, Brooks humanizes the icon of cool rather compellingly, conveying all his insecurities and bringing out his dark side. Yet, Brooks or Eddy never tarnish or belittle McQueen as a man or an actor.

Augie Duke is also terrific as Adams McQueen. Frankly, her scenes with Brooks could be difficult for some fans to watch, but both thesps connect with the tragic element of their marital strife. The film explicitly suggests they were the loves of each other’s lives, but their marriage was still undermined by Hollywood pressures and his personal issues. There are lighter moments too, including a spot-on Jason Slavkin channeling a nebbish Dustin Hoffman as he clumsily feels out McQueen for the potential Papillon film.

Eddy also channels The Thomas Crown Affair through his use of split screens and retro visual design elements, which is totally cool. Most importantly, he does right by his subject. There are light fictional elements, like a pretty hitchhiker, but the broad strokes stay true to the historical record. Despite the personal problems McQueen struggles with (or runs away from), the film is still quite a bit of fun. In some ways, it also serves as a meditation on his own enduring star-power. (Seriously, nobody will ever top a filmography that includes Bullitt, The Great Escape, The Magnificent Seven, The Thomas Crown Affair, and The Towering Inferno.) Affectionately recommended for Steve McQueen fans and anyone fascinated by the psychology of fame, Chasing Bullitt screens tomorrow night (6/8), during the 2018 Dances with Films.

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