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Non-Review Review: Á Bout Portant (Point Blank)

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

Point Blank is another one of those movies which snuck up on me a little during the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival. I wasn’t expected to do anything more than kill a couple of hours with a French film, but was surprised at how energetic and engaging this little action movie is. In fact, it calls to mind some of Luc Besson’s earlier work, which is always a good sign.

A shot of adrenaline...

The movie opens with a premise which is pretty Hitchcockian. An intern preparing to sit his nurse’s exam finds himself targeted by violent criminals in the Parisian underworld for some reason he can’t quite fathom. They abduct his wife, and demand that he smuggle a mysterious patient out of his hospital. Samuel has no idea who this John Doe, brought in after a motorcycle accident, is – but he knows that the thugs will kill his wife if he can’t figure out a way to get the man out of the hospital where he works.

I admit to being a bit disappointed at how quickly the movie shifts away from this set-up, becoming something of a buddy action movie as Samuel and the mysterious stranger find themselves hunted across the city. It becomes a quite conventional fairly quickly, but there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that. After all, there’s no harm in using a classic plot, as long as you can execute it in a way that is interesting and compelling. What the film lacks in originality, it more than makes up for in sheer energy.

On the run...

The movie isn’t big on character development – but, to be honest, that’s not why we’re here. In the first five minutes, we are assured that Samuel is a good man who loves his wife very much, and is undervalued by those around him. We learn relatively little of the man he finds himself escorting across Paris, save that he’s a very violent man. When we uncover the villain of the piece, he’s pretty much just a cardboard cut-out, with no real motivation other than covering up his past sins.

Yet the movie retains an edge throughout. Despite the blandness of Samuel, there’s a genuine sense of danger running through the picture. We don’t take a happy ending for granted, nor do we find ourselves growing to trust his companion, either. There’s a wonderfully cynical tone running through the film, one which suggests that violence can make men indifferent to anything – and that it taints those who use it. That said, it isn’t an especially deep observation, nor a well articulated one, but it’s more of a generic world view. “I haven’t done anything!” Samuel protests at one point as his world falls apart around him. “No one cares,” the stranger explains, steeling himself for the violence that he knows will be coming.

An armed band-it...

It’s this cynical world view which helps the film along. There’s always a sense of dread corruption and indifference to what is playing out – it’s a bad world out there, but Samuel has just managed to isolate himself from it. It’s a world where a police officer is practically indistinguishable from a thug unless he wears a red armband (one he can easily remove). Even the police here are as hardened as the crooks. As Samuel and the stranger prepare to play the part of a cop and his prisoner, Samuel wonders why he can’t play the role of the police officer. “You look too nice,” his companion remarks.

The action sequences are kinetic and energetic, without seeming frantically edited or cut too quickly – there’s never a sense the movie is hiding anything from you. You always have a good idea of where each of the players involved in the action is at any given moment, but you never feel entirely secure. The film doesn’t ever take itself too seriously, but it never descends to the level of farce. In particular, the score from Klaus Badelt perfectly compliments the action, lending a smooth feel that isn’t too distant from the work of Hans Zimmer.

Back against the wall...

Clocking in at under an hour and half, it’s a short and effective little action thriller, but it does exactly what it says on the tin. As I watched it at 4pm on a Saturday afternoon, it felt like a perfectly-timed shot of adrenaline. It’s not a deep or thoughtful film, but it’s a well-made little action movie which has the scent of sophistication about it. From the opening shot of the stranger making his run through Paris, the film never really stops or slows down – and that is certainly its greatest strength.

I don’t normally score my reviews, but the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival does give an “audience award” and asks the audience to rate the film out of four. In the interest of full and frank disclosure, my score is: 3.

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