Save for its title, Fred Cavayé’s “Point Blank” is unrelated to the 1967 Lee Marvin lone-gun thriller. The new movie certainly deserves it’s in-your-face title for the sheer velocity of its pacing but viewers familiar with the Lee Marvin classic will pine for its style and intelligence while shaking their heads at the ludicrousness of Cavayé’s namesake movie.
This new “Point Blank” gets off the blocks fast with an opening montage of a foot chase through Parisian streets as gangsters stay on the heels of a mysterious fleer. The nifty sequence ends with a gunshot and motorcycle accident that leaves the fleer wounded and whisked off to the hospital. The nervy yet smooth filmmaking on display in “Point Blank’s” opening showcases a filmmaker in sure command of the nuts and bolts of action sequences. That sureness doesn’t let up in the following scenes in which Cavayé and co-writer Guillaume Lemans introduce us to Samuel (Gilles Lellouche), the male nurse caring for the wounded fleer, Hugo (Roschdy Zem), who happens to be a criminal. When Samuel’s very pregnant wife Nadia (Elena Anya) is kidnapped by Hugo’s gang, Samuel finds himself in a Hitchcockian pickle as he has to do the bidding of the kidnappers or risk certain danger to his wife and unborn child.
It’s a dynamite setup and Cavayé does right by it up to a point, infusing panache and style in every scene. The sequences in which Samuel must smuggle Hugo out of the hospital, evading suspicious police, and deliver him to his gang hideout pack suspense in classically effective ways. As Samuel, Lellouche has both a believable physicality to carry him through the story’s demanding action as well as the vulnerability of an innocent man that wins our sympathy. And Sartet instills Hugo with just the right mix of a killer’s business-as-usual approach to, well, killing and a redemptive charm that makes his chemistry with the harried Samuel fairly combustible.
But Cavayé and Lemans spoil a good thing when they dump all manner of double-dealing and good cop-bad cop intrigue into what could have been a wonderfully streamlined, character-driven thriller about an innocent man forced to do the bidding of criminals to save his family. The plotting becomes hopelessly busy once crooked cop Werner (Gérard Lanvin) complicates the police pursuit because he’s in cahoots with the same criminals who were pursuing Hugo at the movie’s outset. In one clunkily handled scene that screams “Exposition!” Werner’s entire cover is blown when a dying hitman reveals the crooked cop’s involvement in the murder of a wealthy businessman.
The evidence of Werner’s involvement, of course, in a safe back at police headquarters, the setting for the film’s noisily protracted finale. The second half of “Point Blank” is simply the plot machinery working overtime: With Samuel in tow, Hugo arranges for the infiltration of police headquarters while Werner locks horns (and steely stares) with Fabre (Mireille Perrier), the good cop who suspects that Samuel is not a fugitive but a victim of circumstance.
All of these moving parts collide in a third act that makes mincemeat of all the suspense elements that held our attention in first act, exaggerating them to absurd – even dopey – proportions. To be fair, Cavayé and his team come up with a brisk, watchable climactic set piece. But the elements themselves are too predictable and absurd to be involving and, what’s worse, they betray the riveting simplicity of “Point Blank’s” arresting set-up.
Directed by: Fred Cavayé
Written by: Fred Cavayé, Guillaume Lemans
Cast: Gilles Lellouche, Roschdy Zem, Gérard Lanvin, Elena Anaya, Mireille Perrier, Claire Perot, Moussa Maaskri, Pierre Benoist