Right In the Face, by David Bax
If you’re still holding onto the misconception that films requiring subtitles are inherently more artistic or serious or pretentious than American fare, you should watch any five minutes of Fred Cavaye’s Point Blank. It proves what those of us who watch a lot of movies already know. Namely, that foreign films in general – and French films in particular – can be just as dumb as anything Hollywood has to offer.
It’s interesting to reflect on the fact that in the not-too-distant past of 2002 and the film Bloody Sunday, Paul Greengrass’s grainy, handheld, verite approach to violence and action was still somewhat avant garde. Beginning with Greengrass’s transition to the Jason Bourne franchise in 2004, studios made quick work of co-opting his style, employing it as a signifier of urgency even when nothing else in the films warrants it. Point Blank takes that same shortcut, washing out the color palette and keeping the camera at a constantly moving eye level, all in an attempt to make the action feel real when what we’re watching is actually nothing different from the ludicrous, almost superhuman action films of the 1980’s.
The film begins as a noirish take on Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey, beginning with an innocent man pulled into a fight he’s not initially prepared for or comprehending of. A wounded criminal is under police surveillance while he recuperates in a Paris hospital. Those who want him to get out kidnap the wife of a nurse’s aide named Samuel (Gilles Lellouche), forcing him to facilitate the escape. Anything that might have been interesting about the story ends there, however. By the end of the first act, Samuel is electrocuting cops and setting henchmen on fire like he’s Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The effect of this carnage is that we lose our empathy for the lead character. Of course, in a basic way, we want to see the bad guys get hurt for what they’ve done. But when Samuel is no longer an everyman, we’ve lost our way in, not to mention our lawful, innocent representative among the chaos. The film’s bloodlust trumps any morality that might have made it complex. There are murderers on both sides of the action and we’re expected to align ourselves with some of them based on the screenplay’s insistence and nothing more. About the time a pregnant woman beats someone to death with a metal stool, Point Blank cements itself as a movie that is uncomfortably uninterested in humanity or virtue.
What does interest this film, apart from violence for its own sake, is keeping the plot twists coming. They also exist essentially for their own sake, lending no weight to the journey. There’s one every fifteen minutes or so and it quickly becomes clear that they are the carrot held in front of us, keeping us marching forward until the mercifully short running time draws to a close.
It should surprise no one that Cavaye is also the director of Pour Elle (released here under the name Anything for Her), which was remade by Paul Haggis as the Russell Crow vehicle The Next Three Days. Expect to see someone like Bradley Cooper in an American version of this new film in the next few years. I almost believe it was expressly made as a precursor to a Hollywood adaptation.
I don’t believe that art can be meaningless. Even if it’s bad or good, it reveals something about the people who made it. Though they may have tried their hardest to make a film devoid of any substantial content, those behind Point Blank accidentally made a powerful document of their own opportunistic cynicism.