Cast: Mickey Rourke, Tupac Shakur, Ted Levine, Adrien Brody, John Enos III, Jerry Grayson, Suzanne Shepherd… Donnie Wahlberg has a small role, also.
Written by: Mickey Rourke (as “Sir Eddie Cook”) and Bruce Rubenstein
Directed by: Julien Temple
Genre: Crime, Drama
Running Time: 1 hour, 36 minutes
Released: October, 1996 (U.S. limited release)
MPAA Rating: There is both an R, and an “unrated” version
Didn’t Age Well
Bullet is a film that was probably better appreciated at the time of its release. Now, some 20 years later, much of it seems rather dated. For instance, just seeing Tupac and Donnie Wahlberg on the screen at that time would make it seem like a good movie to many people. It’s not exactly a bad movie now, it just seems very very 1990s.
Acting was more exaggerated then (at least in these types of crime films), gun play was more extreme (it seems almost comical now), “tough guys” more obnoxiously “tough,” and so on.
This is one of those movies I would have seen as a teenager in the 90s and loved, if only because it was grittier than I should have been watching at the time. New Jack City and Ricochet held that appeal for me back then; unfortunately for Bullet, I didn’t see it until my late 30s. My tastes have changed greatly.
Butch “Bullet” Stein
Mickey Rourke turns in a good performance as Butch “Bullet” Stein, a drug addict and street thug from Brooklyn, New York, whom we meet the day he’s being released from prison.
Bullet immediately goes back to breaking the law (including pulling out a bag of drugs while still standing outside the prison). There’s no sense that he has been rehabilitated in any way. Rather, his time inside seems to have been used to set up a plan of attack, which he executes upon his release.
We learn that Bullet was once a baseball prodigy of sorts, who earned more than one college scholarship with his talents. His father (Jerry Grayson) is apparently still angry about the wasted potential. His mother (Suzanne Shepherd), it seems, is mostly heartbroken over the direction her entire family is headed.
Lester and Ruby
Butch/Bullet’s main support system is made up of two people: his baby brother, Ruby (Adrien Brody) and best friend Lester (John Enos III). The two pick him up at the prison and are present during most of Butch’s actions throughout the film.
We get the idea that Bullet is attracted to Lester, but it doesn’t really go beyond hints and innuendo. Bullet is also very proud of baby brother Ruby’s artistic talents and considers him the remaining hope for the family. He tells his mother this late in the film: that she will be proud of Ruby.
Ruby Stein: The Heart of a Painter
Brody does well as Ruby, because that outwardly tough guy with intelligence and a heart of gold role is so perfect for him (especially at the age he was here). Brody has that quality to his own personality, actually. Plus, you can just feel how much he relished playing a painter and talking about art throughout the film.
Painting is Brody’s main real-life passion and pursuit these days (as of this writing in late 2016), which he says he’s longed to focus on for years. He probably took this role some twenty years ago mainly to satisfy that part of him. He seems to really be enjoying himself in this film. It’s nice to see that.
We get the idea that Ruby isn’t really a tough guy, but he wants to spend time with Butch and live in his world. Ruby has a sensitivity to him that Bullet is completely aware of. Bullet basically tells Ruby he could really make it as an artist, and he needs to stop trying to go down the path Bullet himself went down. Bullet truly loves his baby brother and has great hopes for him.
Butch also has an older brother, a mentally ill Vietnam veteran named Louis (played by Ted Levine). Their father refers to him as a “schizophrenic psychotic who thinks he’s a GI Joe,” though I don’t know if those are his actual diagnoses, or just dad’s ranting.
Levine does an excellent job as Louis. You, as the viewer, end up feeling just as uncomfortable around Louis as the characters on screen are. But there is also an underlying heart to him that can be seen much of the time. He clearly cares about his brothers, especially Ruby, who is the only person he trusts enough to allow into his room.
There are two scenes near the end of the film that make clear just how deeply he loves Butch/Bullet, as well. Again, Levine does a remarkable job. He conveys the emotions of these scenes so vividly, while still leaving Louis partly hidden behind his illness.
At this point, I will tell you that Butch “Bullet” Stein’s family is Jewish. I’m pointing this out simply because it’s pointed out in the film about once every 10 seconds. The underlying tension of this film is a race war on the streets of Brooklyn: Black, Irish, Latino and Jewish men all do battle. How it all started isn’t really clear, but we get the idea that most of their beef with each other is based solely on race/religion. I’d imagine they hate each other based on things that go back generations, not just things they’ve done to each other directly.
Tupac as Tank
The head drug dealer in play here is “Tank,” played by the late Tupac Shakur. Tank wears an eye patch that we soon learn is because Bullet once stabbed him in the eye. Tank is still after revenge for that and other wrongs.
As with most “getting even” missions, both in film and in life, nothing ends up getting any better for anyone. There’s a frustration as a viewer to not see much resolution, but it also feels more real that way. A few things have an ending, but we’re left with the overall sense that this war is going to continue to rage.
There is no getting even in situations like these
Movie Overall: 5/10
Brody Performance: 6/10