Fred Cavayé‘s Point Blank (which has nothing to do with the 1967 John Boorman film of the same title) may well be the most perfectly accomplished action thriller of the year. It’s been likened to the art-house hit Tell No One (2008) and while that’s not unreasonable, it’s deceptive. Tell No One is every inch a plot-driven film. Point Blank isn’t too concerned with a plot. It has a situation—or a string of situations that feed off each other—which propels it through a super-tight 84-minute running time. To say that there’s not an ounce of fat on this film is an understatement. To know how involving and wildly entertaining this all is requires seeing the movie—and you should. I will note for the timid that while the film is violent—come on, consider the genre—it is surprisingly not gory and the violence is never gratuitous.
The film’s set-up finds a nurse, Samuel Pierret (Gilles Lellouche, Tell No One), who, through mere chance, prevents an attempt to finish off a mobster, Hugo (Roschdy Zem). What this nets him is a blow on the head from which he awakens to find his very pregnant wife, Nadia (Elena Anaya, Cairo Time), kidnapped and himself on receiving end of instructions to get Hugo out of the hospital and to the safety of the mob in exchange for Nadia. Neither the viewer nor Samuel have time to think about this—we’re merely plunged straight into the action—action that rarely lets up. Now, before you says this doesn’t sound like your sort of movie, let me point out that the action here is unusually involving, unusually well done and unusually intelligent. This is not one of those dumb Luc Besson productions that invade theaters a couple of times a year. It’s something different and far more rare.
I’m not going to say a great deal more about the events in the film. A great deal of the delight in Point Blank comes from the twists and turns that pile up as the movie progresses. While these may be even more interesting in a different way on a second viewing, I think they’re the sort of surprises best encountered with as little prior knowledge as possible. Let’s just say there are bad guys, an even worse bad guy, cops, and cops that might be worse than any of the baddest of openly bad guys—and at the center of it all we have Samuel, his wife and the wounded gangster, who becomes a kind of anti-hero along the way.
One of the things that makes the film work so brilliantly is the unwilling teaming of Samuel and the gangster Hugo. The two are a study in contrasts—both in nature and in approach to things—and the differences make the teaming work in ever more interesting ways. But in a sense that’s part and parcel of what boosts Point Blank beyond the level of your average chase thriller—its uncanny ability to create real characters rather than just types. By the end of the film, we have actual emotional investments in at least three, if not four, of the characters—and one of them is far from admirable.
It’s not that often than an action film fully crosses the line into the realm of art house cinema, but Point Blank manages to pull off that neat trick—and yet it never seems to be trying too hard to do so. That, of course, is part of the secret of why this film soars where so many never even get off the ground. Rated R for strong violence and some language.