For most of the time in the brutally entertaining and clever crime thriller “Bullet Head,” we’re in the obligatory vast warehouse, where three criminals are trapped after a heist gone terribly wrong.
But we leave the scene of the crime, so to speak, for a number of riveting flashback sequences, as the main characters take turns sharing stories — each tale involving an animal, usually a dog.
One of the stories is dark but funny. One of the stories is flat-out hilarious. And one is just heartbreaking.
Present-day and flashback dogs have nearly as much screen time as the main characters in “Bullet Head,” including the veteran career criminals played by John Malkovich and Adrien Brody; their much younger and unreliable junkie partner played by Rory Culkin. and the soulless ringleader (Antonio Banderas) of a high-stakes dogfighting ring.
Sometimes we even see the action from the dog’s point of view, as when a canine bred to kill pursues humans with the relentless focus of a serial killer.
“There are only three kinds of last scores,” Malkvoich says to Brody before they embark on, yes, what they hope will be their last score. “[There’s] the kind where you serve life, the kind where you’re served a bullet and the kind where you walk away. A man’s gotta know what he is.”
It’s great to see Malkovich in relatively low-key mode, reminding us of why he’s still one of the best character actors in the business.
Writer-director Paul Solet serves up some intricately choreographed and creative action sequences and some gruesomely realistic violence. (Even when the dogfighting takes place off-screen, just the sound of those poor creatures in pain is tough to take.) Mostly, though, “Bullet Head” is about the characters and the crackling dialogue, and the first-rate actors giving just the right spin to their lines.
Saban Films and Lionsgate present a film written and directed by Paul Solet. Rated R (for violence, bloody images, language, some drug use and nudity). Running time: 93 minutes. Opens Friday at AMC Woodridge and on demand.
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Also opening this week is another crime caper, this one titled “November Criminals.”
Based on a young adult novel from 2010, this is a well-acted mystery starring Ansel Elgort and Chloe Grace Moretz. (If these two talented actors look particularly young, note that this project was filmed nearly three years ago.)
Elgort is Addison, a bright and earnest high school senior who plans to study the classics at the University of Chicago. Moretz is Phoebe. She’s not exactly Addison’s girlfriend, but they agree to lose their virginities to one another.
“I don’t want to go off to college … without having … done it,” says Phoebe. “I want to get it over with. I want to have sex with a guy who I feel safe around.”
While Addison and Phoebe are trysting, Addison’s best friend Kevin (Jared Kemp) is shot and killed at work. The local police are quick to call it a gang-related crime, apparently because Kevin is black — but Addison isn’t buying it. He starts to investigate the crime on his own, which takes him into some of the more dangerous neighborhoods in Washington, D.C., even as his father (David Straitharn) and the school principal (Terry Kinney) advise him to back off.
With that first-rate cast and solid directing from Sacha Gervasi (and a brisk running time just shy of an hour and a half), “November Criminals” is serviceable if not entirely plausible, especially in the final act.
Vertical Entertainment and Sony Pictures present a film directed by Sacha Gervasi and written by Gervasi and Steven Knight. Rated PG-13 (for mature thematic content including teen sexuality, drug material, brief violence and strong language). Running time: 86 minutes. Opens Friday at AMC River East and South Barrington, and on demand.