“How come he’s always got that weird smile on his face, like he’s got secrets that no one else knows?” — Dialogue from Bullet, 1996.
Understand that the above line of dialogue is not from Bullitt, with Steve McQueen. No, we’re talking about Bullet, from 1996, starring Mickey Rourke.
Bullet. This is one big question mark of a movie. I mean, I know how it got on my Netflix queue. It got on my Netflix queue because, like everyone else who saw The Wrestler, I’m interested in going back over Mickey Rourke’s filmography to rediscover the guy’s unusual talent. So here’s how Netflix described it to me:
This stylish mix of brutality and revenge journeys into the dark underground world of two thugs (Mickey Rourke and Tupac Shakur) who struggle to come to terms with both their bitter, intense rivalry and their grudging respect for one another. A gritty urban thriller about what it takes to survive on the streets.
Worth a look, right? Why not? Sounds a lot like Juice, but even better, because this time Mickey Rourke is in it!
Of course, that’s not the movie I got sent. That’s not the movie I watched. I would like to genuinely complement the Netflix capsule writers on their consistent ability to distill uneasy description-busters into clear and sensible summaries. But they must really have had to stretch to be able to wring the above logline out of Bullet. Bullet is far more of a happily-headscratching curiosity than Netflix could ever have forecasted to me.
Bullet was directed by the same guy who made the great Sex Pistols documentary The Filth And The Fury, and it was written by two people. One of them is named Bruce Rubenstein, who the IMDB reveals also goes by the name of “Butch Stein”, which, along with “Bullet”, is the name of the main character in Bullet.
The other writer is named “Sir Eddie Cook”, who also goes by the name of Mickey Rourke. That’s right – you said you like Mickey Rourke again after The Wrestler and you want to watch more of what he used to do? How about a movie written by Mickey Rourke?
Curiouser and curiouser…
Basically, Bullet is about three Jewish brothers still living in their parents’ house in Brooklyn.
‘Bullet’ Stein is the middle brother, a boxer and heroin addict who returns home from eight years in prison as the movie begins. That’s the Mickey Rourke role.
Ruby Stein is the youngest brother, a graffiti artist of real promise who prefers to follow his brother Bullet around, at growing risk. Ruby is played by a very young Adrien Brody.
Louis Stein is the oldest brother, an army veteran who barricades himself in his room in his underwear with his dogs and his flashing lights and his surveillance systems. This role is portrayed by Ted Levine, the great character actor who is probably still best known as Buffalo Bill from The Silence Of The Lambs.
What I like about the dynamic between these three characters is that all three of them seem to have arrived from three completely different movies. Yet there they are at the dinner table, all three tormenting their long-suffering Jewish parents. Eventually the Brody and Levine characters are fully incorporated into the Rourke movie (which is the one that’s “the gritty urban thriller about what it takes to survive on the streets” as advertised above), and they all three get their chance to interact with Rourke’s one-eyed nemesis, Tank, played by Tupac Shakur in “Duke Of New York” mode. Tank takes his fashion cues from Slick Rick and who slips in and out of this film’s narrative structure much like the shark from Jaws. Tupac has a lot of obvious fun with his role, even though it’s way smaller than promised. It remains a shame that there wasn’t more to be seen of him in movies.
If you have read this far down the page, you will also want to know that Bullet sports early acting appearances from Game Of Thrones‘ Peter Dinklage, Donnie Wahlberg (as an adversary called “Big Balls”), and Michael K. Williams, now a huge star from playing Omar on The Wire. And I haven’t even found a way yet to explain THIS GUY to you.
Without question, Bullet has some kind of a cast.
I will also mention that the credits list Mickey Rourke as the music supervisor. (Not a bad job at all, there. Seriously! It’s got a lot of underrated mid-’90s hip hop artists on it.) Apparently this is also a skill Rourke employed a decade later, to tremendous effect, on The Wrestler.
So there it is.
Obviously the thing is difficult to turn away from. But I’m still not sure what it is exactly that I watched. You will have to see it to know what I’m talking about – by now, you probably know whether or not you want to.
Holla at your boy: @jonnyabomb
Getting high with Barry White:
Another picture that exists on the internet from the Bullet era: