Film Review: Bullet Head

A bracing movie about animal abuse and human desperation, 'Bullet Head' makes its point without being preachy or sanctimonious.
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So, three guys go into a warehouse and…well, that's the setup for this sad, brutal shaggy-dog story about three bad guys—Stacy (Adrien Brody), Gage (Rory Culkin) and Walker (John Malkovich)—who find a hellhound named De Niro standing between them and what was supposed to be an easy payday.

Stacy and Walker are stand-up crooks, guys who steal for a living and don't mess around with their livelihood. Gage is a baby-faced junkie with a lead on a big score that's there for the taking in a municipal storage facility. What he apparently didn't know about was the watchdog, a Presa Canario named De Niro that, for the benefit of non-canine insiders, is the Sherman tank of guard dogs: tall, broad, muscular and implacable.

To the credit of writer-director-producer Paul Solet (of 2009's striking baby-vampire film Grace), Bullet Head isn't a movie about bad dogs or breed vilification—quite the opposite, in fact. De Niro isn't a bona fide hellhound; he's just a dog who was born and bred and docked and trained to fight for people's debased amusement. De Niro can't help what he is, but that doesn't make things any better for the hapless jerks who've ventured into his literally dog-eat-dog world and have to get past him to get out of it.

Bullet Head is first and foremost a character study full of witty palaver and, yes, shaggy-dog tales—Stave has a great one about a truffle hound (actually a standard poodle, poufy lion-clip and all) named Pom-Pom, a righteous pup if ever there was one. It may not be the equal of Alejandro González Iñárritu's devastating Amores Perros (2000), but it's a strong, bracingly unsentimental film about the relationship between men and dogs and it doesn't pull its punches.

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