Bullet to the Head

Bullet to the Head

CHRISTIAN SLATER as Marcus Baptiste and SYLVESTER STALLONE as Jimmy in Warner Bros. Pictures', Dark Castle Entertainment's and IM Global's action thriller BULLET TO THE HEAD, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Frank Masi.

Bullet to the Head (2013)

Opened: 02/01/2013 Wide

Wide02/01/2013
Showcase Cinem...02/01/2013 - 02/14/201314 days
AMC Loews Meth...02/01/2013 - 02/14/201314 days
AMC Deer Valley02/01/2013 - 02/14/201314 days
N. Bergen, NJ02/01/2013 - 02/14/201314 days

Trailer: Click for trailer

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Genre: Action/Thriller

Rated: R for strong violence, bloody images, language, some nudity and brief drug use.

REVENGE NEVER GETS OLD.

From director Walter Hill comes the action thriller BULLET TO THE HEAD.

Synopsis

Sylvester Stallone stars as Jimmy Bobo, a career hitman who enters into an unlikely alliance with by-the-book detective Taylor Kwon to bring down the ruthless killer of their respective partners.

BULLET TO THE HEAD also stars Sung Kang ("Fast Five"), Sarah Shahi (Showtime's "The L Word"), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje ("G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra"), Christian Slater ("Broken Arrow"), Jon Seda (HBO's "The Pacific"), Weronika Rosati (HBO's "Luck"), and Jason Momoa (HBO's "Game of Thrones").

Hill directed the film from a screenplay by Oscar® nominee Alessandro Camon ("The Messenger"), based on the graphic novel Du Plomb Dans La Tete, written by Matz and illustrated by Colin Wilson, and published by Casterman. The film is produced by Alexandra Milchan ("Righteous Kill"), Alfred Gough (TV's "Smallville"), Miles Millar (TV's "Smallville"), and Kevin King-Templeton ("The Expendables" films). Stuart Ford, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Deepak Nayar, Steve Squillante, Joel Silver, Courtney Solomon, Allan Zeman, Steve Richards and Stuart Besser served as executive producers.

The behind-the-scenes creative team included director of photography Lloyd Ahern ("Last Man Standing," TV's "Broken Trail"), production designer Toby Corbett ("Crossing Over"), editor Tim Alverson ("Unknown"), and costume designer Ha Nguyen ("Super 8," "Shooter"). The music is composed by Steve Mazzaro.

Warner Bros. Pictures presents, in association with Dark Castle Entertainment and IM Global, a Millar Gough Ink/Emjag Production, an After Dark Films Production, a Walter Hill Film, BULLET TO THE HEAD.

Production Notes

FRENCH CONNECTION

Two icons of the action movie genre teamed for the first time on the film "Bullet to the Head." Award-winning filmmaker Walter Hill directed global superstar Sylvester Stallone in the new action thriller.

Stallone, who first approached the director with the project, notes, "I thought it would be great to work with Walter Hill on this type of buddy movie, which is a genre he knows well. Although, in this case, the main characters are not really buddies at all, but rather adversaries who have to work together against a mutual enemy because their lives depend on it. But out of that, an interesting relationship evolves."

Hill offers, "Sly and I have known each other a long time and have talked about working together in the past, but we could never quite make it happen. I admire him very much and always wanted to do a movie with him, so this proved to be the perfect opportunity."

The story is based on the popular graphic novel Du Plomb Dans La Tete, which, although originally written in French, was very much inspired by the American cinema. Acclaimed French author Alexis Nolent, whose nom de plume is Matz, confirms, "I've always been a big fan of buddy movies, which is a genuine American specialty. I was playing with some ideas and thought it would push things up a notch to team a killer with a cop--to have a bond that has to cross the line of the law and ethics and principles. The cop is, of course, a little more square than the hit man, who is more able to think outside the box. But the concept was that these two characters who seem to have nothing in common actually have much more in common than they ever imagined."

Producer Alexandra Milchan initially developed the project with producers Alfred Gough and Miles Millar. A self-described fan of Matz's work, Milchan remarks, "I thought it was a fun and gripping story, and Colin Wilson's illustrations were really powerful. It felt like an homage to Hollywood movies and the possibilities for bringing it to the screen were instantly apparent."

Milchan showed the graphic novel to screenwriter Alessandro Camon, who loved it. He recalls, "I thought it was a great genre piece, highly cinematic, with a wild and attractive premise--a kind of anti-buddy movie, where the two character embarking on a mission don't only have a clash of personalities but may actually want to shoot each other. That seemed like good fodder for both tension and comedy, and ultimately a good way to let the characters make huge choices: between loyalty and duty, and between what they feel and what they believe."

Sung Kang, who stars opposite Stallone as the man on the right side of the law in this pairing, observes, "They're like oil and water: no matter how hard you try to shake them together, they are constantly splitting apart."

Hill says, "We want the story and characters to be taken seriously, but in a movie like this, I think it's good to add a touch of humor. Finding that balance can sometimes be tricky, but I think it's an important part of the entertainment value. I think that's also one of the things Sly responded to."

Interestingly, the cover of the graphic novel unwittingly provided inspiration for the filmmakers' choice for the central role of James Bonomo, aka Jimmy Bobo. "The image of Jimmy Bobo looks remarkably like Sly," Milchan notes. "We realized it was right there in front of us. I've always had tremendous respect for Sly, and when we met with him, he offered great insight. Right away, he was totally involved in guiding the project, so having Sly and his producing partner, Kevin King-Templeton, on board felt like the perfect match."

Producer Kevin King-Templeton remembers, "I read the script for 'Bullet to the Head' and immediately thought it was the kind of project Sly was looking for. We were just coming off of 'The Expendables,' which was a huge ensemble piece. This felt a little more contained, with elements of action, drama and humor. I got the feeling it was something he would really sink his teeth into."

The film gave Stallone and Kang, along with fellow cast member Jason Momoa, a chance to sink their teeth into some challenging stunt sequences. The fight scenes culminated with a thrilling mano a mano axe fight between the two hardened killers, played by Stallone and Momoa.

"Bullet to the Head" also reunites both Stallone and Hill with another premier action veteran: Joel Silver, Chairman of Dark Castle Entertainment and an executive producer on the film. Silver previously produced the Stallone films "Demolition Man" and "Assassins" and collaborated with Hill on several projects, including "48 Hrs." Says Silver, "It was exciting to be back in business with both Walter and Sly. Walter is a director who knows what he wants and comes to the set with all the answers, which is a joy for any producer, and it goes without saying that Sly is an iconic star the world over. We had a great time working together on this film."

"I've been working in this business a long time and I can tell you that Joel Silver is a true original," Stallone states. "He's an incredibly creative and hands-on producer. Between him and Walter, I was in good hands."

KILLER CAST

The story opens as Jimmy and his partner, Louis, are on what appears to be a routine hit. Their target is Hank Greely, an ex-cop who was kicked off the force in Washington D.C. in disgrace. They don't know why someone wants him dead, and they don't ask questions.

Despite Jimmy Bobo's profession, Stallone remarks, "He's at peace with himself. He plays by his own set of rules that are blunt but simple to follow. Jimmy believes he takes out the trash, removing those hard-to-get-out stains in society. He doesn't go after people who, in his mind, don't deserve it."

Hill says, "Sly is a terrific film actor. He has great eyes, he has that instantly recognizable voice, and he's a physical marvel. But, to me, the main thing is, he's got a great heart, and the audience feels that when they experience the story through him. It's a rare gift."

Once the job is done, Jimmy and Louis head to a local bar to get paid, but instead of cash they are met with a double-cross that leaves Louis lying in a pool of his own blood.

Arriving in New Orleans to investigate Greely's killing, Washington D.C. detective Taylor Kwon learns of the close proximity of Louis's murder and immediately makes a correlation. However, with no jurisdiction in New Orleans, he can't go through the usual channels to investigate. Instead, he seeks out the dead hit man's only known associate: Jimmy Bobo.

Sung Kang, who stars as Taylor Kwon, offers, "My character figures out that there's a connection between the deaths of our former partners. Taylor lives by this real rigid code of honor and a moral integrity that's been ingrained in him. He wants the entity behind the hits, so he's willing to team up with Jimmy to chase down the bad guys, even though he knows Jimmy is a criminal himself."

Taylor is willing to compromise on his values for the sake of the greater good, but there's still a limit to how far he'll bend.

Stallone adds, "Jimmy is confronted with something he's never been confronted with before--a betrayal from within and a complete reliance upon a detective who hates his guts. Not exactly a strong support system."

Kang asserts, "Generationally, they're completely different; morally, they're completely different; and ethnically, they're completely different. Jimmy Bobo comes from a time where there was no political correctness, so he's the type of guy that just says what's on his mind."

King-Templeton offers, "There's just a great juxtaposition between the two characters. Jimmy is bombastic and like a bull in a china shop; he's tough as nails but, at the same time, wears his heart on his sleeve. Taylor Kwon is more reserved, although once he teams up with Jimmy he does begin to adopt more of the hit man mentality. He's always been a by-the-book cop, but Jimmy's underworld approach begins to rub off on him."

Adding to the discord between Jimmy Bobo and his new "partner" is the fact that the hit man is a bit of an anachronism. "He doesn't even know how to use a smart phone," says Stallone, "and that makes him a great foil for Taylor."

Coming into the project, Kang says that he was excited about the opportunity to work with both Stallone and Hill. "I pretty much grew up watching Sylvester Stallone movies. One of the first movies my father took me to was 'Rocky.' So getting to work with him was a pretty amazing experience, definitely one of those things on my bucket list," he smiles. "And from the get-go, Walter Hill was so open to ideas; he was such an ally for me as an actor in that respect."

"All of the actors had such respect for Walter," King-Templeton says. "He was always well prepared and knew what he wanted, and he trusted his cast to give him what he was looking for."

Initially, Jimmy is understandably reticent to join forces with a cop, given his own line of work. Fortunately, however, he comes around just in time to save Taylor from an ambush by someone who obviously doesn't like the fact that the detective is sniffing around where he doesn't belong.

Though Taylor is wounded in the attack, Jimmy can't take him to a hospital, where doctors would have to report the shooting. Instead, he takes Taylor to the one person he knows they can trust. Sara Shahi was cast as Jimmy's tough and independent-minded daughter, Lisa, a tattoo artist, whose relationship with her father is very complex.

Shahi elaborates, "Lisa doesn't have a mother, so Jimmy is the only family she has in the world. Still, there's been a lot of hurt and a lot of betrayal because Jimmy has been in and out of her life, probably out of a need to shield her. He's provided for Lisa financially, but other than that he really hasn't been there for her. But there's definitely love there, so Sly and I worked to find a balance between the fact that they genuinely care for each other and letting that sort of bruised heart come across."

Shahi had no such reservations about Stallone, stating, "I love him; I pinched myself every day coming to work. He's just amazing."

The actress continues that working with Hill was "a dream," but admits, "I really had to fight for this part. I think he imagined someone much grungier looking than me, so I had to really show him I could play Lisa's gritty side. She is pretty rough and raw but with a fragile heart. That's what I love about her."

As Jimmy and Taylor unravel the conspiracy behind the deaths of both Louis and Greely, they come up against some dangerous adversaries. But none are more ruthless than the relentless gun-for-hire named Keegan, played by Jason Momoa. Describing his character as "a shark," Momoa offers, "He's former Special Forces who is now a mercenary. But he doesn't do what he does for the money; he definitely enjoys his job...maybe a little more than he should."

Momoa says that the chance to work with Stallone was one of the main reasons he wanted to do this film. "I respect him so much as an actor, and just to know him is a true honor. He is really down to earth and a fantastic human being."

His character, however, did not share his regard for Jimmy Bobo. Momoa attests, "Jimmy is the only one who has ever gotten the upper hand on Keegan, and that's ticking him off. Keegan was hired to kill him, but now it's personal. He really wants to kill him just as much as Jimmy wants revenge, so they have a true vendetta against each other."

Christian Slater portrays another link in the chain, a lawyer named Baptiste. Slater relates, "Baptiste is certainly in over his head. He's a guy who, probably through circumstances and through greed, has wound up in the company of men who are not necessarily on the up and up. I don't think he started out with that kind of intention, but he got sucked into this world, and as a result, bad things happen."

At the top of the ladder is Robert Nkomo Morel, a local real estate mogul who is as ruthless as he is wealthy. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, who plays the role, comments, "He is a highly intelligent and sophisticated businessman, behind whom lurks a manipulative and dark criminal. He is a wealthy immigrant who secured his fortunes from notoriously corrupt deals in Africa, the consequences of which left him a permanent cripple. Nevertheless, he is a formidable figure, with both government and police officials in his wallet. He will stop at nothing to achieve his ends. When Jimmy and Taylor interfere with his plans, it unleashes his wrath and he exerts all his power to take them down."

Jon Seda and Holt McCallany appear, respectively, as Louis Blanchard and Hank Greely, the two men whose deaths are the catalyst for the story. Rounding out the cast are Brian Van Holt as Ronnie Earl, who double-crosses Jimmy and Louis; Weronika Rosati as Lola, a hooker in the wrong place at the wrong time; Dane Rhodes as police Lt. Lebreton; and Marcus Lyle Brown as Detective Towne.

ON LOCATION IN THE BIG EASY

"Bullet to the Head" was filmed entirely in and around New Orleans, Louisiana, marking Walter Hill's third film to be shot there. The director states, "New Orleans is a wonderful city and a fun place to make a movie. It's special in so many different ways--the atmosphere, the weather, the architecture and the history. It's not a typical city, but it is somehow uniquely American."

Being so familiar with the area was helpful to Hill, whose filmmaking style is to move quickly. "If you can do your set-up and shoot reasonably fast, I think it makes the movie more spontaneous," he acknowledges. "I also had a wonderful team, including a terrific cinematographer, editor, and designers. They really knew what they were doing, which was great because I tend to speak in a kind of shorthand."

Working with Hill were his longtime director of photography Lloyd Ahern, as well as production designer Toby Corbett, editor Tim Alverson, and costume designer Ha Nguyen.

Like Hill, Corbett had worked in New Orleans before and notes that the city "offers a lot of interesting textures, and colors, and architecture--detailing that really lent itself to aspects of this film. We wanted to have a hot, steamy, debauched feel to the world of these characters."

King-Templeton observes, "New Orleans has a sexy, sultry feel to it that really complemented this film. It was the perfect backdrop for the story."

Each of the parishes is unique, providing a widely varied palette for the film. Milchan affirms, "It's a place where anything is possible. You can go from the swamps to Central City to the colorful French Quarter. Parts of New Orleans make you feel like you've stepped into a different century; you can sense the rich history."

Corbett says, "We wanted the flavor of the French Quarter, but the problem is finding areas that don't have an influx of tourists. We stayed on the periphery, where we could still capture the spirit of the Quarter."

One of the most notable locations in New Orleans was Scout Island, surrounded by the swamp in City Park, where Jimmy Bobo's "safe house" was constructed. The house was remote and away from prying eyes, and also offered a clever escape hatch: trap doors in the floor that opened to the water beneath--perfect for diving out of trouble...or disposing of a body. At a pivotal point in the story, the house was blown to smithereens. The only caveat about the special effects used for the explosion was that the production had to be very mindful of trees and foliage in the vicinity of the house. The park, situated right in the middle of the city, had been severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Production had to pull back on the planned explosion because they were not permitted to compromise any of the recovery. Visual effects were later employed to enhance the explosion in post production.

Other locations in and around New Orleans included: the Garden District, known for its stately homes surrounded by expansive lawns; the bohemian Marigny district; the Warehouse district, visited for its galleries, museums and lofts; Central City, home to a number of the city's mixed-income housing projects; Riverfront, where you can find access to the ferries that cross the Mississippi; and Jefferson Parish.

The action in "Bullet to the Head" climaxes in an enormous, abandoned power plant, which brought director Walter Hill full circle. Corbett reveals, "It's the old Market Street Plant, which is where Walter Hill directed his first movie, 'Hard Times,' back in 1975. It's a stunning, turn-of-the-century building, with cathedral like windows, and huge machinery. The internal metal structure helped frame some of the images, making it even more appropriate to the graphic novel source material."

CALL TO ACTION

The Entergy Plant location was where Hill and members of the cast and stunt team staged Jimmy's ultimate showdown with Keegan. Stunt coordinator and 2nd unit director JJ Perry and co-stunt coordinator Noon Orsatti worked with the actors on the fight sequences, from hand-to-hand combat, to gunplay, to a fight to the death with antique, but still lethal, fire axes.

Because Jimmy and Keegan were trained killers and Taylor was a cop, they each had to seem like expert shooters. Perry and Orsatti trained the actors in a technique called "gun jitsu." Orsatti explains, "It's gunplay mixed with a little jujitsu, so that it's more natural and fluid and visceral."

However, Perry details, "We wanted to give each character his own style. Jimmy is an old school hit man, while Keegan--being a mercenary with prior military service--is more tactical. Sly was very receptive to our ideas. He's a master of his craft and a great action star."

Orsatti adds that both Jason Momoa and Sung Kang were "awesome to work with. Sung really knew his beats, and Jason was at our facility all the time. He just became one of the guys. He has tremendous skills and is willing to do whatever it takes to do the job right and safely. No matter what you throw at him, he rises to the challenge."

"We had a great time helping Walter facilitate his vision of the action," Perry says. "I jumped at the opportunity to work with him because Walter Hill is one of my heroes. It was he--and directors like him in the `80s--who pushed the action wave that stuntmen like me are still riding. We're all indebted to him."

Walter Hill states, "I'm very happy to be called an action director. There are certain rules to the genre, and the audience understands those rules, so we sometimes wrestle with that familiarity. But, hopefully, we find fresh ways to entertain them and make it different and fun. And keep it fun for us, too."

 

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