This unique fusion of the western and the race movie is a grand, old-fashioned epic that offers some surprising food for thought. Richard Brooks' script deftly balances adventure and racing-oriented setpieces with nuanced characterizations and thoughtful dialogue that explores how "winning" is a central part of the American ideal. Brooks directs his narrative with a judicious eye, making effective use of sharp cinematography by Harry Stradling, Jr. to convey both the beauty of the landscape and the grueling toll it takes on the racers. Brooks also gets strong performances from a diverse, likeable cast: Gene Hackman excels as the rugged but big-hearted hero - the emblem of the best American qualities that Brooks is using his film to praise - but there is also skillful work from James Coburn as an amusingly roguish racer and Jan-Michael Vincent as a callow young rider who is forced into maturity by the challenges of the race. That said, it is Ben Johnson who captures the heart of the film with his finely-tuned performance as an over-the-hill drifter who pursues the race despite his poor health. His campfire monologue about how one must be a "winner" to be noticed in America is quietly devastating stuff. Finally, it is worth noting that the film boasts a lavish musical score by Alex North that has a sense of grandeur reminiscent of the work of Aaron Copeland. All in all, Bite The Bullet is majestic, rousing entertainment that appeals to both the heart and the mind. It is well worth the time for anyone who wants to enjoy a uniquely American epic.
by Donald Guarisco review