Taciturn. Yeah, that’s it. Badass, grim and taciturn. Of course, who better to inhabit this role than Steve McQeen in this 1968 classic directed by Peter Yates. This film is both a time capsule from the late 1960’s and yet somehow has a feeling of being untethered to any era – it is just unimaginably cool.
I can’t discuss this movie without taking a moment to honor the memories of stuntmen Bill Hickman and Loren Janes. Bill drove the Dodge Charger and Loren the Mustang in what many believe is one of the greatest car chase stunts ever filmed – ten minutes of pure adrenaline as these two vehicles careen through the streets of San Francisco at dangerously high speeds – it really has to be seen to be believed. Motorheads around the world get jacked just thinking about it. It’s the gift that just keeps giving and never gets old no matter how many times you see it. 40 years before CGI, with not much beyond seatbelts in the way of safety precautions, it’s just early Detroit muscle cars with V8’s driven by someone with ridiculous skills and brass balls.
But it’s the little touches that make this such a unique and great film – the verite like clinical precision of procedural details, the minimalist dialog, the cinematography that captures everything with an extremely realistic vibe. Nothing looks like it was filmed on a set, and of course it has an amazing jazz soundtrack by Lalo Schifrin.
Steve McQueen was never better – his face just looks burdened by the weight of humanity’s darkest impulses. Most of what he conveys in his performance is non-verbal, yet within moments you know exactly what kind of man he is. Like Bogart, he was one of those actors that never seemed to be acting.
I don’t think a single person smiles the entire film. It’s not exactly film noir, but it was made at that point in the 1960s when genres were starting to break apart only to be bent and twisted to make new forms of cinematic expression.
It’s like a testosterone loaded fuel injected fever dream from 1968 where each new day is a grim exercise in surviving human corruption.