Gilles Lellouche in "Point Blank." (Magnolia Pictures, Magnolia…)
"Point Blank" will leave you breathless. Unfolding at a blistering clip from its slam-bang opening through its bravura close, it grips you at frame one and doesn't let go.
A tiptop French thriller that's reminiscent of everything from Alfred Hitchcock to 2006's "Tell No One," "Point Blank" is genre all the way. Its story of an ordinary man facing extraordinary peril doesn't go anywhere we haven't gone before, but seeing familiar material presented with such crisp élan brings intense pleasure.
Director Fred Cavaye is a former fashion photographer with an intuitive understanding of the dynamics of action and tension and a parallel gift for making things really move on screen. Friends advised him that "to make a film that is always going fast is not possible," but that is just what he's attempted here.
Working with co-screenwriter Guillaume Lemans, Cavaye has constructed a story with a huge amount of plot that throws in twist after wild twist as it switches gears on the audience with confidence and ease. Our understanding of who is doing what to whom and why may be in continual flux, but this is a film that always brings us up to speed.
Sharing nothing but a name with the Lee Marvin-starring 1967 film, this "Point Blank" opens with a literal bang as wounded mystery man Hugo Sartet ("Days of Glory's" charismatic Roschdy Zem) bursts through a door with two armed individuals in pursuit.
Covering more distance injured than most folks could do healthy, the man ends up under police protection in a Paris hospital where Samuel Pierret (Gilles Lellouche) works as a nurse in training, and even more excitement ensues.
Samuel is very much in love with his wife, Nadia, played by Spanish actress Elena Anaya (about to make a big splash as the star of Pedro Almodovar's "The Skin I Live In"). Samuel is especially joyful because Nadia is seven months pregnant with their first child. Though bed rest is recommended for her, this is not the kind of film where that is an option.
In fact, we've barely met Nadia before she's kidnapped and Samuel is instructed that if he wants to see his wife again, he has to do whatever is necessary to get Hugo out of the hospital — and out of the clutches of the police, specifically the hard-nosed Commandant Fabre (Mireille Perrier), who is locked in an intraservice rivalry with the equally unbending Commandant Werner (the veteran Gerard Lanvin). And he has to do it within three hours.
"Point Blank" is one of those films where one thing leads to another, and no matter what Samuel decides to do at any given moment, he gets pulled deeper and deeper into increasingly murky waters. If he didn't turn out to be the toughest nurse in Paris, he wouldn't have a chance, and even so, things look increasingly bleak.
Because Cavaye doesn't believe in scripts that contain a lot of dialogue, much of the intense drama of this situation has to be conveyed via the presence of the actors involved, and both everyman Lellouche and the compelling Zem do this without breathing hard.
One place where both stars as well as the supporting cast do break a sweat, and more, is in "Point Blank's" exceptionally good foot-chase sequences, including one through the Paris Metro's Opera station that brings to mind Alain Delon's maneuvers in Jean-Pierre Melville's classic "Le Samourai."
Cavaye's first film, "Pour Elle," has never been released in this country because it was almost immediately remade as Paul Haggis' "The Next Three Days," and it's likely "Point Blank" will be redone as well. In addition to everything else, this expertly done, high-tension thriller stands as a rebuke to a sclerotic Hollywood system that can't seem to make them like this anymore.