Things couldn't be better for Samuel (Gilles Lellouche) and Nadia (Elena Anaya): he will soon be a nurse and she is expecting her first child. But their world is tipped upside down when Nadia is kidnapped in front Samuel's and he's incapable of doing anything about it. When he comes to, his cellphone rings: he has three hours to get a man, under police surveillance, out of the hospital where he works. Samuel's destiny is henceforth linked to that of Sartet (Roschdy Zem), a gangster figure actively wanted by every branch of the police. If Samuel ever wants to see his wife alive again, he must act quickly...

Inventive French actioner always on the run.

FRENCH FILM FESTIVAL: First things first: This is not a remake of John Boorman’s sublime existential action-thriller Point Blank (1967) with Lee Marvin. In that now legendary, groundbreaking film, which has always had a major following in France, the title had narrative significance. I can’t say whether the director here, Fred Cavaye, who made his debut a few years ago with Anything for Her, is a fan of Boorman’s picture, and the 1967 film’s revenge scenario doesn’t seem to be important to this film’s kidnap plot, so its unlikely it’s some kind of homage. It’s a good title, though. It seems to promise no-nonsense violent action; something harsh and fast, brutal and blunt.

Whatever the motive, Point Blank turns out to be an apt brand for this breathless kidnap and pursuit yarn, which takes place all around Paris. It has a ferocity that’s really impressive, so much so that you don’t really notice till it’s over how so much of it makes so little sense. That’s not to suggest the film is stupid; I just mean it’s powered by movie-logic. It’s not cold, though. The guns, the blood, and the mayhem are all underscored with a romantic sensibility not unlike that of Luc Besson (Leon), another director who loved to mix a big body count with a heartfelt and shameless paean to the importance of l’amour. Still, Cavaye’s style is earthier than Besson’s baroque ad-influenced slickness. This movie is very much a modern French actioner, recalling in its dark mood Olivier Marchal’s far superior 36 Quai des Orfèvres. Point Blank's surface has a Bourne-like hardness, with real-world settings and action anchored within an acceptable limit of plausibility (even if, in the Hitchcock tradition, the plot deliberately stretches credulity!)

Anything for Her suggested that Cavaye knew his genre cinema. I think this is a better film. It’s got a simple, archetypal set-up. Like, say, Collateral, it’s a 'worm-turns’ narrative but with even more complications (involving police inter-departmental rivalry and a corrupt cop culture). Reduced to basics, the script by Cavaye and Guillaume Lemans puts an 'everyman" fellow in a perilous and dangerous scenario.

Samuel (Gilles Lellouche) is a trainee nurse; in a model of genre storytelling, the script rapidly establishes him as conscientious, honest and capable and deeply in love with his very pregnant wife Nadia (Elena Anaya). A man called Sartet (Roschdy Zem), badly wounded, ends up in Samuel’s ward – soon after Nadia is kidnapped. The bad guys demand Sartet in return for Samuel’s wife; panicked, he gets Sartet on the street, but getting to Nadia is something else. Sartet and Samuel never quite learn to trust the other, a nice reversal on the sentimentalised view of male-on-male US buddy pics. They plot to double cross the other out of a sense of survival (not malice). Only when mutual destruction is assured do the men reappraise their natural instincts. It’s a nice idea and, in a way, it sums up the film; it’s a genre film pared back to the absolute essentials.

Short and gripping, Point Blank lingers over nothing; the film is structured around its chase scenes, with the occasional detour into a plot clarifying bit of backstory. The dialogue beats are brief, the characters bold, the acting solid and Cavayne is very good at keeping the jangly plot straight and clear. Gilles Lellouche is likable and creditable as the hapless hero; it’s a tricky, almost but not quite ridiculous, part and it’s grounded in fear and the script never has him perform feats outside of his skill set. (Well, maybe a bit.)

And, of course, the action is inventive and always good; the opening foot chase, partially-staged on a cell-like fire escape, which climaxes with a mind-blowing stunt, is great. The film has a tremendous sense of emotional claustrophobia and Cavayne and co. are really skillful at taking the most banal location, like a metro station, a bus, or a hospital, and creating an evil, prison-like atmosphere. It’s furious and a bit corny, and a lot of fun and I suspect somewhere Luc Besson is smiling.


1 hour 25 min