“Point Blank,” a French film written and directed by Fred Cavayé (“Anything For Her”) opens with a chase scene. Two hefty thugs pursue a wounded man through a clanging industrial building, shot in the shaky handheld style of the modern gritty action film. After several tense minutes, the chasers catch up and hold the chasee at gunpoint, only to watch a speeding motorcycle hit him.
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Cut to a hospital room, where Samuel Pierret (Gilles Lellouche, “Tell No One”) watches his wife Nadia (Elena Anaya, “Talk to Her”) get an ultrasound. This marks an abrupt shift in the film’s tone, as the scene is lighthearted and funny — Samuel is an attentive husband, and the couple is loving and adorable.
When the first two scenes of a film portray such disparate worlds, the audience can be certain they will collide. And they do. The chasee from the first scene, thief Hugo Sartet (Roschdy Zem, “Days of Glory”), ends up in the hospital where Samuel works as a nurse’s assistant. Late that night, a man breaks into the hospital and attempts to kill the wounded Sartet, only to be saved at the last minute by Samuel. Here, only a few minutes into the film, is where the action begins — and it never lets up.
The next morning Samuel is attacked by a gunman in his apartment, and his pregnant wife is kidnapped. He is ordered to break Sartet out of the hospital by noon, or his wife will be murdered. This leads Samuel on a thrilling and dangerous journey through Paris in search of his wife, with the police in hot pursuit and flanked by the reticent but menacing Sartet.
“Point Blank” is as consistently tense and exciting as an action film can be. There are jarring cuts; sudden, unexpected bursts of violence; plenty of narrative twists and turns and never a dull moment. In this film, it feels like anything could happen at any time. And what does happen is usually not what one would expect.
Much of the film’s tension is derived from misdirection. Just when it is apparently becoming predictable, the film yanks the audience in an unexpected direction. Even minute details aren’t what they seem. But sometimes the filmmakers get carried away, and the misdirection seems forced, as if “Point Blank” is trying to be unsettling for its own sake rather than to develop the narrative.
But however manipulated the audience may feel, the film is intensely realistic. The story, though improbable, seems like it could realistically happen. And the violence, instead of being stylized and glamorized like many recent action films, is lifelike. There are certainly shocking moments, and the film is not for the faint of heart; but this is not just brutality for its own sake, and the violence is never overly gratuitous, just unflinching and raw.
As “Point Blank” progresses and Samuel gets closer to his wife and develops a friendship with Sartet, they begin to uncover a labyrinth of violence and corruption in the police force. As the film builds to a chaotic climax, we experience everything from Samuel’s point of view, so the audience is mercifully saved from exposition. Rather, the filmmakers use action to drive the story forward, all the way to the thrilling, satisfying conclusion.
While the emotional narrative is fairly one-dimensional and most of the characters are never fully developed, the simplicity serves this fast-paced story well. “Point Blank,” at a brisk 84 minutes, is pure entertainment and makes for an exciting cinematic experience.