Bulletproof Heart (1994): Mark Malone Moody Noir

Cannes Film Fest 1994 (Market)–Mark Malone conceived Bulletproof Heart (aka Killer), a movie about a nihilistic hit man, after reading Marcel Camus and some articles about organized crime that said mobsters have stopped hiring psychopaths to do their killing because they have found them too unmanageable and unpleasant.

The men who arrange mob killings now seek out nihilists instead. Aware of the comic possibilities in the premise, Malone and writer Gordon Melbourne have made a moody piece of neo-noir fatalism.

Mick (Anthony LaPaglia), the cool hero, is the ultimate pro, supplying services for big bucks. But he’s grown numb, incapable of any emotion. When first seen with a call girl, he’s more intrigued by the violent potential of their encounter than by sex. The prostitute is a gratuity from Mick’s boss, George (Peter Boyle), for his latest assignment. Mick is assigned an unusual duty: Killing Fiona (Mimi Rogers), a femme fatale inflicted with a mysteriously incurable disease. Expectedly, as soon as Mick meets his enigmatic victim, who’s willing to die, he falls for her. However, Mick is not a standard fall guy; his love for Fiona turns out to be a transformative redemptive act.

The unity of the action, set over the course of one night in New York, adds to the tightly-controlled tension. Since most scenes are indoors, the film is appropriately claustrophobic. The story falters in its mid-section, a picnic in a cemetery, but it regains its vitality and the tragic closure is emotionally satisfying. Noir yarns have portrayed many acts of killing, but seldom have they conveyed so precisely the feelings of a hit man and his victim seconds before execution. It’s in these scenes, and in the exploration of trust, that Bulletproof Heart achieves distinction.

Melbourne’s script is deftly constructed, showing facility with fluent, bright dialogue. Avoiding noir’s melodramatic clichs, Malone strikes the right balance between theatrical and cinematic notes. Just when dialogue becomes static and ambience stagnant, he moves his camera or cuts. The specific manner in which flashbacks are inserted recalls Reservoir Dogs, and an all-night session testing the manhood of three men recalls powerful scenes and poignant acting in Cassavetes’ work.

End Note

Republic released the picture in limited theatrical markets, but despite critical acclaim, the picture only grossed $377,108.