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Review: written 2007

Ineffably cool

Time has hardly aged this gem from arguably the peak of Steve McQueen's career. While the plot is at times hard to follow, the style and cool that McQueen and director Yates bring to the movie makes it an eternal treat, regardless of how late 60's fashions have changed since.

From the moment we hear Lalo Schifrin's distinctive and oft copied jazzy score, we know we are in for something a little different to today's thrillers. For a start, there is not really very much action. There are really only 3 set piece action scenes - the 10 second slaying of the witness who is essentially the `maguffin' of the movie, and of course the famous car chase, and then the final chase and shootout on foot at an airport (copied, or at least homaged by, Michael Mann for his ending of `Heat'). What really makes the movie tick is the coolness and style. For large parts of the movie, events are very procedural, and yet McQueen's star presence makes the mundane absorbing. He was a man who famously knew how to work a camera.. if he could do without lines, he would let the camera do the same job with his face instead. He was generous in allowing other actors say all his lines, knowing the camera would be watching him - especially in this movie, in which he played a large part in bringing to the screen. Even watching him getting in and out of a car is an exercise in effortless cool.

Of course, it does not end there - the supporting cast are excellent, even Robert Vaughn shines as the slimy politician alternately looking for a fall-guy or a collaborator, depending on how things are going. The only note that seems discordant is the inclusion of the admittedly gorgeous Jacqueline Bisset, who seems included as prop rather than to bring the story along.

Modern and younger audiences may find the pace slow, but patience is well rewarded with a movie you can remember afterwards for many of its little moments. This is a highlight of McQueen’s back catalogue, and indeed of 60’s cinema.

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