‘Point Blank (Á bout portant)‘ screens at the Music Box Theater’s Chicago French Film Festival on Friday, July 22nd at 10:00 P.M.
France has very quietly built up a nice low-to-middle budget action – thriller industry. Many of these films have been produced by the indefatigable Luc Besson (Jet Li’s ‘Kiss of the Dragon,’ ‘Wasabi’ with Jean Reno, Jason Statham’s ‘Transporter’ movies, the ‘District 13 (Banlieue 13)’ films, ‘Tell No One,’ Liam Neeson’s ‘Taken,’ and Travolta’s ‘From Paris With Love’).Having cultivated a pretty consistent market, Besson’s efforts are being duplicated by others, and one of the best of these recent French thrillers has made its way here.
Fred Cavayé’s Point Blank (Á bout portant) (France, 2010) doesn’t really break any new ground; you’ve seen most of these stunts before, and the plot mechanics are pretty conventional – corrupt police, honorable thieves, and ordinary people caught up in extraordinary events. But there’s real satisfaction in watching a smart, well-oiled machine working, and real satisfaction in watching pro actors work hard to bring more than they needed to. Cavayé’s film is extraordinarily well-structured – there’s real confidence here, scene-by-scene, shot-by-shot. It never feels like they shot miles of film, hundreds of set-ups, and just left it to the editors to make sense out of it (I’m looking at you, ‘Bourne’ franchise). There are long stretches where they didn’t use Steadicam – imagine! Plausible events follow one after the other, quickly and efficiently, but we get a real sense of who the principals are and why they choose what they do. There are the usual faceless minions in the background -cops, thugs, bystanders – but they’re not just cannon fodder; Cavayé uses his entire cast well.
In the opening sequence, we see a man pursued – by criminals, by police, we don’t know – and seriously injured. In hospital, there’s an attempt to finish him off, but a nurse’s aide, Samuel (Gilles Lellouche) intervenes and saves him. After his eventful day, he returns home to his pregnant wife, Nadia (Elena Anaya), but he’s not there long before intruders attack and kidnap his wife. The ransom? Get him out of that hospital. The patient, Sautet (Roschdy Zem) is a longtime criminal, a safecracker, and there’s a significant police presence after the first attempt on his life. The escape from the hospital is the first of a number of genuinely thrilling sequences – Samuel’s mortification at what he must do is trumped by his dedication to saving his wife, and Lellouche strikes that balance with terrific energy and immediacy. Samuel and Sautet then, of course, say it with me, strike up an uneasy alliance – Samuel to find Nadia, Sautet to discover why he was targeted during his commission of the job. If Sautet finds Nadia for Samuel, he can face his double-crossers, an elite police squad who performs ‘other services,’ led by Commandant Werner (veteran-pro Gérard Lanvin).
There ain’t much not to love here. Agreeably hard-boiled, swiftly paced and thrillingly executed, it’s a terrific genre crowd-pleaser, as long as the crowds don’t mind the subtitles. It’ll get a regular theatrical run in a few weeks, but this weekend it’s part of the Chicago French Film Festival. I’ll write up other films there as well, but if even half of them are as successful as ‘Point Blank,’ it should be a great event.