Face-Off: Frank Bullitt vs. The Driver

In last week’s Face-Off, MAN OF STEEL got its super-ass handed to it by BATMAN BEGINS in an overwhelming decision that favored the latter as the better movie. Superman will get a chance at revenge in 2015 when Henry Cavill goes cape to cape with Affleck in BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN.

In this week’s installment, we turn our attention to Ethan Hawke's GETAWAY opening this Friday. This movie made me think of fast cars and also about Steve McQueen’s 1972 classic THE GETAWAY. McQueen made me think of cool movie characters of which he’s played many. I decided his iconic character Frank Bullitt from BULLITT (which features one of cinema’s most famous car chase sequences) should go head to head with another cool movie character with a need for speed. So, who’s it going to be? Will it be Dominic Toretto from THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS, Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle from THE FRENCH CONNECTION or Frank Martin from THE TRANSPORTER? I decided to go with one of the coolest characters we’ve seen in years and chose Ryan Gosling’s The Driver from DRIVE.

Sharp-Dressed Man
A truly memorable character owes a lot to the way he looks in the movie. Being cool is only half the trick because you have to dress cool too. Detective Frank Bullitt gets a lot pissed off about halfway through the movie and sheds his suit and tie for a blue turtleneck. That’s right - a blue turtleneck! Now, I can’t pull a turtleneck off and chances are you can’t pull a turtleneck off either. The reason why is because nobody can look cool in a turtleneck...ever.

But somehow, someway, when Bullitt puts it on he becomes cooler than in the first half of the movie and a real force to be reckoned with the rest of the way through. But the real transformation takes place when he slides his holster over the t-neck and you finally realize that you are in the presence of a real man and the best cop in the city by the bay.
So that’s it, right? Nobody can beat a guy that can pull off a t-neck and holster so why even bother? Well, The Driver has a unique look of his own and it consists of a shiny silvery jacket with a yellow scorpion embroidered on its back, brown leather driving gloves and a toothpick hanging out of his mouth. I tried this last week at a club I go to and I didn’t last 5 minutes in the place.

Once again, somehow, someway, The Driver not only pulls this look off but looks sharp in the process. His jacket takes a beating (as does he) in the movie and the more ragged, dirty and bloody it gets, the more he insists on leaving it on. You know why? It’s because it makes him look so cool and it’s a part of who he is. Oh yeah, this is definitely a tie.
The Name
Indiana is a cool name but compared to Frank Bullitt I may as well be called Smurf. Frank Bullitt is probably the second coolest name in cinema after John Shaft. In fact, the only non-fictional name cooler than Frank Bullitt is Steve McQueen. No matter how you look at it, Frank Bullitt is a name that will forever be synonymous with being a cool, uncompromising badass and that’s how we’ll always remember both the actor and the character he played.
I just said there is no name cooler than Frank Bullitt so I shouldn’t even bother going forward in this category, right? Well, there is one that comes close and that is having no name at all! Gosling’s character is so mysterious and slick that he is only known by his profession – The Driver. I thought this category was going to be an easy one but I just can’t dismiss a character so deep, dark and dangerous that he is above even being branded with a Christian name. Whether he is called The Driver, The Mechanic or The Stuntman, this cool cat has just earned himself another tie.
The Drive
Frank Bullitt turns the tables on the bad guys and goes from being the chasee to being the chaser. What follows is a close to ten-minute romp through the streets of San Francisco. Sadly, this legendary chase sequence is the only time we actually witness Bullitt showing off his driving skills so he loses a few points for that. Where he gains points is by remaining virtually expressionless throughout the intense chase and by “winning” it as he watches the bad guys explode in a ball of fire. McQueen's speed was also featured in movies like THE GREAT ESCAPE and LE MANS but those exploits are not admissible in this category. Still, this chase sequence became a part of movie history and set the tone for all future car chases on the silver screen. The man behind the wheel of that car was Frank Bullitt.
The Driver can drive...and drive well. He has it down to a science and it’s engrained in his DNA. He repairs cars, he crashes stunt cars in Hollywood movies and he is a professional getaway driver for hire. He is cool and calculating and never comes in second. Perhaps that’s where the problem lies. The Driver is a much better driver than Frank Bullitt but he doesn’t have nearly the same excitement and recklessness that Bullitt has and in the movies those two elements keep the audience on the edge of their seats. I hated to have to pick a winner in this category but it looks like The Driver finally comes in second to the cop from Fog City.
1) Walter Chalmers: Frank, we must all compromise.

Bullitt: Bullshit.

2) Bullitt: "Look, Chalmers, let's understand each other... I don't like you."

3) Cathy (his girlfriend): "What will happen to us, in time?"

Bullitt: "Time starts now."
1) Driver: [on the phone with Irene] "Can I talk to you? I won't keep you long. I have to go somewhere and I don't think I can come back. But I just wanted you to know. Getting to be around you and Benicio was the best thing that ever happened to me."

2) Driver: "How 'bout this. You shut your mouth. Or I'll kick your teeth down your throat and I'll shut it for you."

3) Driver: "Now, you just got a little boy's father killed. And you almost got us killed. And now you're lying to me. So how about this? From now on, every word out of your mouth is the truth. Or I'm going to hurt you."
He's super cool, he's relentless and he plays by his own rules. He can drive a car really fast and barely break a sweat. Hell, he can wear a turtleneck and barely break a sweat! He's Frank Bullitt and although we love him and we want to be him, the character is left being a little too one-dimensional for us to really figure him out or even identify with him, just a little.
Like the lyrics to the song 'A Real Hero' which plays a couple of times in the movie, The Driver ends up becoming"...a real human being, and a real hero." Considering he is kind of a "bad guy" to begin with this transformation and journey has much more meaning and resonance by the end of the film. Add to that the romance of the elevator kiss and his life-risking exploits all for the name of love and you have a much more well-rounded character than Frank Bullitt and one you can truly care for in the end.
The Driver
I'd like to go on record and say that Steve McQueen is my favorite actor. I was hoping Frank Bullitt would win this face-off outright but when I weighed in all the factors, this one character of his fell just a little short against The Driver. Now if ever Steve McQueen the actor faces off against someone in this column, well, it won't really be as close of a race. That being said, much respect goes out to Ryan Gosling, fellow Canadian and one hell of an actor. Gosling has been consistently choosing good roles, smart roles and real macho roles that McQueen made famous back in the 60s and 70s. Nobody can or will ever be like Steve McQueen but if Gosling keeps up this pace, he can be one of the few that came awfully damn close.



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