'Point Blank' is a ride. Will you worry about the future of French talkie cinema? Not while watching this.

High Energy 'Point Blank' Is a Rush

Dennis Harvey August 9, 2011

Let's face it: Generally speaking, movies seem smarter when they're wearing subtitles. Stilted dialogue can be excused as a translation problem; other elements we might otherwise find over-the-top, odd, clumsy, or just bad can likewise be given a pass in the interests of cultural exchange. Many a film trashed on home turf has been better appreciated where its tongue isn't native, often because what seemed too familiar and obvious to home audiences gains ambiguity, novelty and/or presumed loftier intent in the eyes of foreign audiences.

These thoughts occur because the new French thriller Point Blank loses exactly nothing in translation—it's a prime example of cinematic globalization in that it's far more influenced by Hollywood than Gallic screen norms. This comes as no great surprise, as inevitably some younger filmmakers in France (and elsewhere) have grown up wanting to be Spielberg, Tarantino, Sam Raimi, or at least Luc Besson rather than Rohmer or Godard. American movies today dominate the world marketplace far more than in prior decades. Having been raised on our own mallflicks, it's no wonder many up-and-coming directors abroad find their own countries' classic cinema too “boring” and “arty.” They, too, want to make films that are slick, entertaining and high-energy.

Whether that is a good or bad thing is too big a subject to argue here. But the issue comes up because Point Blank is a crackerjack thriller that could have worked just as well in any language or cultural context. Like so many Hollywood examples of its type, it's got a “high-concept” narrative hook that might well have been pitched to executives in a crisp sentence or two; one whose essentially formulaic nature will hopefully be overlooked in the sheer headlong rush of its execution. It is, as they say, a ride.

But you've got to wonder: If Point Blank were a major-studio American film (and no doubt it soon will be, as the movie practically screams “remake value!”), would it get the mostly raving reviews it's getting here? Would it be condescendingly applauded (or dismissed) as merely a well-crafted cut or two above the last few racing-against-a-life-or-death-clock thrillers to hit 2,000 theatres near you?

Whatever. If it takes a Paris setting and subtitles to let some viewers enjoy a straightforward action thriller without guilt, then so be it.

Point Blank is, indeed, nothing if not straightforward, action-packed and enjoyable. The premise is simplicity itself: The lone surviving perp (Roschdy Zem as Hugo Sartet) in a botched robbery attempt is taken under heavy security to a hospital to recover from his wounds. Soon the heavily pregnant wife (Elena Anaya as Nadia) of a nurse's aide (Gilles Lellouche as Samuel Pierret) is kidnapped. The husband is told if he wants to see her alive again, he must find some way to smuggle Hugo out and deliver him to his killers.

Soon Good Guy is reluctantly more partner than captor to Bad Guy, as it becomes clear that Worse Guys are against them both, with a mighty police-corruption scandal set to explode if our heroes live to tell.

After a brief, frenetic flash-forward, Blank wastes scant time on preliminaries before plunging into what's essentially one long hyperventilating chase. Well, not very long—at an admirably trim 84 minutes, there's nary a bit of narrative fat or slack pacing here. It all moves so quickly and confidently across DP Alain Duplantier's widescreen images that you don't have time to ponder the inevitable gaps in plot logic, like the near-superhuman resources that turn Average Joe into instant escape artist, or restore a gravely wounded man's full decathlon-worthy physical strength the second it's needed.

This is just the second feature for director/co-scenarist Fred Cavaye, whose prior hit Anything for Her likewise hinged on a desperate husband's efforts to rescue his wife. (That film was remade as last year's Russell Crowe vehicle The Next Three Days.) Point Blank is yea leaner and meaner, its twisty thrills coiled tight for maximum impact. Cavaye doesn't have the distinctive eye that makes people like Scorsese or De Palma masters of the flamboyant action setpiece; he's a mechanic rather than a stylist. But his machine runs very fast and smooth indeed.

Will he transition to Hollywood projects? How long before this film becomes a Hollywood project? Does Point Blank sound another death-knell for the classic French cinema of interesting people talk, talk, talking about their relationships and whatever else comes to mind? Should we care? Of course. But rest assured that for 84 minutes, you won't.