Thursday, March 14, 2013

Walter Hill And Economy Of Storytelling

In Walter Hill’s “Bullet To The Head,” Sylvester Stallone’s Jimmy Bobo is a hitman who makes what I’m guessing is the unusual choice to never switch his weapon of choice, a particular handgun of a make I would know had I any expertise in guns. He picks up other weapons over the course of the film, but he keeps returning to his old standby, until it’s taken away from him in a third act clash that, for the first time in the film, challenges him.

His forced partner, a cop investigating the death of a former associate, is played by taciturn Sung Kang. He utilizes several weapons over the course of the film, though taking a backseat to the confident Bobo, his chief accessory appears to be his Blackberry. As he trades young/old barbs with the sixtysomething Bobo, his assistance in the case derives exclusively from his ability to dial up information. Later, he’ll remove the bullets from Bobo’s gun at a key moment, foreshadowing the emasculation implicit in his seduction of Bobo’s daughter.

Bobo’s former partner (Jon Seda) carries his own firepower, a small red switchblade. But when slayed by mercenary Keegan (a ferocious Jason Momoa), his last gesture is to pursue his murderer, a futile effort that leaves him clutching his weapon. Bobo rescues the blade and spends the film clutching it, waiting for that moment to find Keegan and dole out revenge. Bobo could cap him, but anyone who knows anything about on-screen revenge knows what’s going down.

The other characters in the film are also identified by their symbolic associations. Bobo’s daughter wears a shoulder tattoo that bares a superficial resemblance to the one located on a prostitute, and the revelation that she’s a tattoo artist herself complicates matters (though, when attacked, her customers come to her assistance, a welcome surprise). And criminal lackey Christian Slater wears the secrets of his boss’s criminal enterprise around his neck, in a necklace containing a zip drive, one of the film’s few concessions towards contemporary life - most of "Bullet To The Head" plays as if Hill is still in the eighties, happily.

Villainous Keegan wields several weapons over the course of the film, though as the action advances, it’s clear there’s little difference between him and the rest of the characters. And it’s only in the final act when he reveals his identifying tool: an axe, planted in a memorial in an abandoned building, which he gives to Bobo before procuring his own. It’s the most surprisingly poignant in the film: here is our “villain” (who just eliminated the crippled lead baddie not through his execution, but by callously tossing his identifying laptop computer in a small pool, destroying his zip drive-empowered plot) borrowing from the memory of others to emphasize his honor, gifting this recognition on his enemy Bobo. Bobo quips, “What are we, Vikings?” Not far off, Sly.

They used to call this economy of storytelling.

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