Like it’s lead, Point Blank has no time to waste. With a mere eighty four minute running time, it’s not hard to understand why. With time being such a precious commodity, hapless everyman Samuel (Gilles Lellouche) hurries at every turn, and Fred Cavayé’s film follows suit. Point Blank distinguishes itself with boundless energy, an economy of thrills, and some choice brutality sprinkled liberally across the span of its plot; it’s infrequently graphic but certainly willing to shed some blood and torture a random side character when the occasion calls. Most of all Point Blank is mercurial, so quick that anything other than high caliber execution would render it as nothing more than an airy blip on our cinematic radar.
Fortunately, Cavayé– whose 2008 film Anything For Her was remade into 2010’s The Next Three Days— is more than up to the challenge. Like the French director’s debut film, Point Blank centers around a normal man going to desperate lengths for the sake of his wife; by extension it’s also about that man being placed into extraordinary circumstances which test his limits and mettle. Samuel’s a very likable fellow, a kind-hearted nurse who’s dutiful and sweet to his very beautiful, very pregnant wife Nadia (Elena Anaya). He finds his wonderful life upended in the wake of the film’s opening events– an accident involving a man named Sartet (Roschdy Zem, excellent and intimidating) who ends up comatose under Samuel’s care. Swiftly, Sartet’s pursuers track him down to finish what they started; Samuel intervenes, and so becomes entwined in a web of crime.
If there’s one thing worth knowing about Point Blank, it’s that it is– as mentioned above– fast. Cavayé’s allowed very little breathing room for both his characters and his audience here, speaking to the progression of plot. It’s possible that Cavayé wants the length of his film to reflect the predicament of his hero. Nadia is kidnapped, rather unceremoniously, and held ransom by someone who wants Sartet retrieved with all expediency– on pain of death. Neither Samuel nor the film have much time to mess around; the film starts in media res and gets moving with all haste. Taken from that angle, the film’s brevity makes a great deal of sense, and Point Blank grips and entertains us from the word go until the credits roll. Some directors are masters of pacing, and can make two hours feel like half that; some directors don’t beat around the bush, and Cavayé can be counted among their number. And if in eighty minutes Cavayé can tell the story he wants to tell, why shouldn’t he?
What Cavayé does especially well here is tell a lot of story in a very short period of time. Point Blank doesn’t rank highly in the realm of complex films, but between the primary thread involving Samuel racing to rescue his imperiled wife there are a number of little sub-plots involving police corruption, the machinations of Paris’ criminal underworld, and betrayal. Sartet, it turns out, isn’t an innocent man caught up in extraordinary circumstances like Samuel. Rather, he’s a dangerous thug and expert safe cracker who’s on the receiving end of some serious treachery and general skulduggery. With both men being wronged by the same parties, their team-up seems inevitable, but it only comes after the two spend most of the film at odds with one another in the midst of Nadia’s kidnapping and the other unsavory goings-on that are driving the film’s events.
There’s also plenty of room for deeper thematic explorations, even given Point Blank‘s minimal running time. Particularly Cavayé places an emphasis on surveillance, so much so that the various CCTV systems utilized throughout the film almost become characters unto themselves. A respectable amount of plot is pushed forward in dark-lit rooms in which a wall of TV monitors comprises the focal point; chases are conducted and misdeeds are observed through them, keeping the tension from going slack even when Cavayé cuts away from those moments of action. In a film where the hero is made to bend under the weight of intrusions into his and his wife’s personal life, the question of privacy hangs heavily over the proceedings, and in a world where CCTV remains under scrutiny and attack by its opponents, we’re given to wonder whether Cavayé’s film favors the technology or if Point Blank can be taken as something of a critique against them.
Which is not to say that Point Blank is so heady as all that. The movie’s greatest pleasure lies in its state of being a stripped-down, no-frills thriller that feels modern and yet hails from a more classic sensibility. In cinema, France has come to be known as an exporter of gruesome, brutal horror films in the last decade (from 2003’s High Tension to more recent releases like Martyrs and Inside). If only for that reason, Point Blank feels refreshing, serving as living proof that contemporary French filmmakers have more to offer among genre fare than arterial spray and graphic cruelty. With this taut and smartly plotted film, Cavayé continues to be a director worth watching.