In the press notes for "Bulletproof Heart," starring Anthony LaPaglia and Mimi Rogers, director Mark Malone describes how he conceived a movie about a hit man who seems to have stepped out of a Camus novel.
For one thing, Malone read a lot of Camus novels. He also "read an article about organized crime in New York that said many mobsters have stopped hiring psychopaths to do their killings for them. It seems that they have found them too unmanageable and unpleasant. Some of the men who arrange Mob killings now seek out nihilists instead."
Nihilist hit men: Doesn't this sound like the premise for a great, early Woody Allen comedy? Imagine organized crime figures raiding the university philosophy departments for talent. Would the rationalists run New Jersey? Would the pragmatists take over Chicago?
Malone is aware of the comic possibilities in the premise but he keeps a lid on them. He and his screenwriter, Gordon Melbourne, and his gifted cinematographer, Tobias Schliessler, are far more interested in making a moody, blues piece of neo-noir fatalism. It's low-rent, single-room-occupancy Camus. What makes it compelling is that the filmmakers and the actors are completely absorbed by the fatalism; they're entranced by it. And so, miraculously, "Bulletproof Heart" never comes across as a gag, a joke. It wins you over.
The French will love it.
LaPaglia's Mick is very good at his killing job but he's grown numb. When we first see him, with a call girl, he seems more interested in murdering her than dallying with her. Mick isn't a bad guy, exactly, he's just caught up in the wrong line of work. He's a hit man because he's good at it--nothing personal.
But, of course, it gets personal. When George (Peter Boyle), a mobster and frequent client, pressures Mick into agreeing to hit George's ex-girlfriend Fiona (Mimi Rogers), Mick ends up falling for her.
The early scenes between Mick and Fiona are edgy, kinky duets. Fiona knows why Mick is visiting at her apartment; she welcomes the opportunity to shuffle off her mortal coil. This is what makes "Bulletproof Heart" an existential double-whammy: Fiona seeks her own obliteration. And Mick, who is used to having his victims offer some resistance, is flummoxed by Fiona's fatalism. She's even more nihilistic than he is, and it spooks him.
LaPaglia is very good at showing how Mick is pulled into Fiona's web of misery. He's never met anyone like her and he's touched by her--he wants to reclaim her. But she's too much for him; she's also smart enough to understand that Mick the control freak needs to be overwhelmed. (They have a sex scene early on that really clarifies their temperaments; it's a great example of how explicit sex in a movie can be anything but gratuitous.) By the time they're eating take-out Chinese food in a mortuary, while Mick's trigger-happy aide Archie (the gifted Matt Craven) practices looking mean in a rear-view mirror, "Bulletproof Heart" has become deeply loco.
But no more so than most film noirs. In that genre, the more darkly nutty the better. And the better the vamp, the better the piece. Rogers is deeply upsetting as Fiona; it's easy to see how she could cause a hardened hit man to unflex. Rogers in recent years has become an extraordinarily subtle and intuitive actress and she gets to give a full-fledged performance in "Bulletproof Heart"--reason enough to see it. She gives the film a genuinely troubling core that overrides all the artsy-fartsy fatalism.
* MPAA rating: R, for strong graphic sex scene and violence. Times guidelines: It includes several semi-graphic rub-outs and a bondage sex scene.
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'Bulletproof Heart' Anthony LaPaglia: Mick Mimi Rogers: Fiona Matt Craven: Archie Peter Boyle: George A Keystone Pictures presentation in association with Republic Pictures. Director Mark Malone. Producers Robert Vince and William Vince. Executive producers Robert Sigman, Gary Delfiner and Michael Strange. Screenplay Gordon Melbourne. Cinematographer Tobias Schliessler. Editor Robin Russell. Costumes Maxyne Baker. Music Graeme Coleman. Production design Lynne Stopkewich. Set decorator Elizabeth Patrick. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes.
* At selected theaters.