Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Point Blank (À Bout Portant)

Blank Noir

Point Blank (À Bout Portant) France 2010
Directed by Fred Cavayé
Now playing at UK cinemas

Warning: This review contains spoilers fired at point blank range into your mind. No more warning shots!

Well that was an exciting movie. New(ish) French crime thriller À Bout Portant, cunningly retitled Point Blank for the UK and US markets (presumably because they think the audience is so dumb or stupid that we can’t remember films with Lee Marvin or adaptations of Richard Stark novels), is a very fast paced and quite edgy action piece which, quite frankly, really doesn’t have much right to be.

Here’s why...

It’s a cliché ridden plotline dealing with a cover up between very dirty, very powerful cops who murdered someone important and are trying to kill off the surviving “denizen of the underworld” scapegoat, a remorseless thug one can almost but not quite sympathise with, in the hopes that everything can remain pinned on him. The main protagonist and his wife (oh, and a “good copper” who won’t last very long in the duration of the movie) are pretty much the only two people you can really sympathise with in this one. The husband Samuel, played by Gilles Lellouche, works in hospital and is studying to become a nurse. When he saves the life of the dying underworld scapegoat Hugo, his extremely pregnant wife is kidnapped by the brother of the aforementioned Hugo and he is forced to smuggle Hugo out of hospital... or the wife gets it! He then becomes embroiled in a “caper” where nothing goes as planned but certainly goes just as badly as the audience expects and... well, I don’t want to give too much away but lets just say that he finds himself doing lots of questionable stuff, as does his wife, to avoid being killed in the crossfire between the corrupt police unit and Hugo.

So yeah... pretty cliché ridden. So why does this not fail as a movie?

Quite simply the acting and directing and editing on this are superb. It’s a very slick, highly polished piece of “designer grittiness” which moves so fast that you really don’t have time to consider its place in cinematic history as you watch it. Lellouche runs around the thing both looking and acting like a very young Robert De Niro and the scenes of violence are nasty enough to distract you from the cold hard light of day realisation that you are watching a less than original storyline.

As you can probably tell... I loved it (for a single viewing), and if a movie which doesn’t hold any surprises or unusual twists of originality can hold my attention and not let me get bored, then that’s saying a lot in my book. The film is populated by a cast of a lot of familiar faces from recent French cinema... none of whom I could quite place at the time but they all play their roles with a certain French relish. I think one of the reasons why this works as a film is that the audience is left in no uncertain terms as to the innocence of Samuel and his wife Nadia (played by Elena Anaya who is another familiar face from such films as Van Helsing and Talk To Her and who is soon to be thrust back into the spotlight in the upcoming Almodover movie The Skin I Live In) and therefore you have someone very clear to root for, especially in contrast with the rest of the characters.

Pretty much nobody else in the film in a really major role is in any way sympathetic. The police unit are way more ruthless, underhanded and just genuinely despicable in contrast to the criminal element in the film... mostly represented by Hugo, played by Roschdy Zem. Even Hugo, who we are kind of asked to sympathise with... as emphasised by a small sequence at the end of the film set 8 years after the main text, is really just a very brutal thug. He doesn’t set the train of events that play out in this movie into motion - he is after all hired to be killed and framed for the murder committed by the corrupt police - but he does go out of his way to put a finish to things and his unlikely and uneasy “partnership” with Samuel is tenuous until Samuel realises that the only hope of getting his wife back and somehow clearing himself of murders committed by the police when they start gunning for Samuel too, is to trust Hugo. Unfortunately Hugo tortures and kills his way to the end game of the shaky plotline and so I personally found it a bit hard to sympathise with him in light of his actions and growing number of questionable judgement calls throughout the film. Samuel is the “straight arrow” character which stops the audience completely backing away from Hugo... since the odds are so overwhelmingly unlikely that any of our main protagonists will survive, we go along with this uneasy alliance in the hopes that the hardened criminal will lead “our hero” to return to the increasingly unlikely status quo of his former life.

There have been complaints, or at least criticisms, levelled at the movie for having an end sequence that both tries to have its cake and eat it at the same time... well yeah, there is a certain sense of that, it’s true, but personally I didn’t find it so hard to swallow (not as hard to swallow as the very last sequence of Conspiracy Theory, for example) and I think the alternative of this would have left the audience emerging from the screenings with less hope for their fellow man. Not necessarily a bad thing, promoting thought is good, but at the same time I can’t really find myself standing in too much judgement of the ending. It worked okay for me.

Point Blank is a bloody and action paced little thriller with a slightly early seventies French cop movie feel to it (at least in tone if not in editing style) which deserves to find a solid audience. I don’t really do cop movies these days so I won’t be picking this one up on DVD. I would, however, recommend it as an exciting and fairly intense outing to the cinema... so get yourself down to see it before it vanishes in the gunsmoke!

NUTS4R2’s Astonishing Trivia Treats: We don’t need another movie called Point Blank, we already have a famous one directed by John Boorman and starring the late, great Lee Marvin. However, in my soupçon of research for this article I found that the French don’t need another movie called À Bout Portant... they already have one. it’s what they call the Lee Marvin version of The Killers. That Lee Marvin geezah was such a title-hog!


  1. Well it ticked all my boxes, not very original but at 84 minutes long it packed a lot in, which I cannot fault.
    I found your trivia article interesting, I liked to meet the marketing people who thought of the English translation, sent to a desert island would be too good!
    You should check out Pour Elle, I would be interested in your take on it.

    Thanks for your review


  2. Hooray! You liked my Trivia bit. See my Green Lantern review for more fun facts.

    Thanks for the comment JH!