Bullet to the Head (2013) – Review

3 Stars


Sylvester Stallone plays hitman Jimmy Bobo, who along with his partner Louis Blanchard (Jon Seda) get caught up in a plot involving corrupt cops and gangsters. The two are hired to kill a cop, Hank Greely (Holt McCallany), who is blackmailing Robert Morel (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), the new gangster in town. All goes as planned until Keegan (Jason Momoa), Morel’s hired gun, shows up at a bar Bobo and Blanchard are celebrating at. He kills Blanchard and tussles with Bobo, but retreats when he’s unable to finish him off. Detective Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang) arrives in New Orleans from Washington D.C. to investigate Greely’s death. He deduces Bobo’s involvement and the two tentatively agree to work together to discover their partner’s killer. Kwon disapproves of Bobo’s shoot first ask questions later style, but the duo have made it further together than they would have apart. Things heat up when Bobo’s daughter, Lisa (Sarah Shahi), is taken hostage and Morel plays his final hand. Can Jimmy save his daughter, get the bad guy and avoid arrest from Kwon in the end?

The voice-over opening and ending to Bullet to the Head leave a lot to be desired, and set the movie off on the wrong foot. They feel almost tacked on to gain a few more minutes of running time. Once past that though Bullet is a lean and mean crime drama full of visceral violence in the gritty setting of a nighttime New Orleans. Walter Hills direction is straight and to the point. You won’t find any over the top shaky-cam, Hill is a true director choosing shots and camera moves that don’t get in the way of the story, but augment the scenes they are capturing. Bullet has the mentality, look and feel of an 80’s or 90’s cop drama. Steve Mazzaro’s second score fits the film perfectly and at times melds so well into the picture it almost becomes more of a sound effect. Produced by Hans Zimmer the music is a haunting mix of gritty New Orleans blues and soundscapes.

Hill and Stallone are no stranger to violence in film. I used the term visceral to describe that violence earlier, and that sums it up neatly on one word. I had the feeling that there were consequences to actions here; one of the main characters is hurt right off the bat and a lot of the action sequences don’t go as planned for our heroes. Movies (including violent action movies) should cause some emotional feelings rather than just spectacle, which is a problem Stallone’s fallen into with the Expendables franchise and a glaring issue with the latest Die Hard 5 installment.

Bobo’s “no women or children” decree is old hat at this point, and a bit cheesy to hear in voice over, but necessary to make him the good guy. Stallone is clearly an anti-hero here, but everyone has some sort of code or standard that they live by in Bullet. This helps to make the bad guys worse than Bobo and it also fleshed out the characters so they’re not as one-dimensional as most action flicks nowadays. The actors are in good form, it’s good to see that Jason Momoa is better than his Conan performance. Christian Slater is a slimy loud mouthed lawyer, which plays well into his over-acting. Even Stallone’s low grumbling growling dialogue fits his character to a T. The good repartee between Sung Kang and Stallone seemed to come easy to them, which is almost necessary as their characters had little time to grow on each other in the hour and a half running time.

Bullet to the Head is a great throwback to action flicks from the 80’s and 90’s filled with unabashed violence that has weight to it by putting its main characters in situations they may not come out of. It reminds me a lot of films like 1991’s Showdown in Little Tokyo.

Director: Walter Hill
Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Sung Kang, Sarah Shahi, Jason Momoa

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