Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Breaking Point

Elena Anaya and Gilles Lellouche in Point Blank
Point Blank
Directed by Fred Cavayé
With Gilles Lellouche, Roschdy Zem, Gérard Lanvin, Elena Anaya, Mireille Perrier

A thrill ride that rarely lets up during its taut 85-minute running time, French director Fred Cavayé’s Point Blank is surely a prime candidate for a Hollywood remake.

In the Hitchcock tradition of ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances, hospital nurse Samuel’s beautiful and pregnant wife Nadia is kidnapped before his very eyes, then he’s brutally knocked out. Upon awakening, he discovers a connection to an injured criminal, Sartet, recently admitted to the hospital and under police guard. When the kidnapers tell him he must help spring Sartet in order to get his wife back, Samuel has to deal with double-crossing, murderous crooks and police, finding his own moral boundaries tested again and again.

Although mainly interested in nonstop action, Cavayé and co-writer Guillaume Lemans know audiences must have any kind of emotional attachment to care about what happens to the hero. So they do that in a few fleet early scenes of tenderness between Samuel and Nadia, seeing their baby’s ultrasound and sharing a casual moment of domestic bliss immediately before the brutal criminal world intrudes.

And boy does it intrude! The first shot of the film--of an unidentified man slamming into a chain link fence as he runs from two armed men--throws us right into the dangerous world that Samuel and Nadia soon are part of. Nearly the entire movie remains at that same breathless pace: it’s telling that the lone breather for both audience and the characters is an overlong explanation to Samuel and Sartet about why they are being targeted that unnecessarily replays the opening moments in a new context.

Except for this over-explanatory sequence, the film’s momentum doesn’t flag: an exciting chase on foot through the Metro is followed by an irresistible finale in which Sartet’s underworld buddies mastermind a simultaneous series of petty crimes to make the local police precinct so raucously disorganized that he can waltz in as a cop, with Samuel in tow as his “arrest,” to look for an incriminating piece of evidence.

The acting combines canny casting and terrific performers who make first impressions stick. Veteran Gerard Lanvin (Mesrine, The Taste of Others) makes a scarily psychotic police commander on the wrong side of the law, while Mireille Perrier nicely underplays his opposite, the honest cop who is viciously dealt with. Roschdy Zem is charismatically cunning as Sartet, who becomes Samuel’s unlikely partner in crime. And, although her striking statuesque beauty makes her look like a supermodel more than an ordinary expectant mother, Elena Anaya enacts Nadia so intensely that she compels our attention.

But the film ultimately rests on the shoulders of Gilles Lellouche, most recently so suavely commanding in Cedric Klapisch’s My Piece of the Pie as an arrogant, self-centered stock trader. He easily switches gears here to become a most believable and immensely likeable everyman, even when the script makes him do things that stretch credulity, which is par for the course in a movie like this.

Point Blank is the opposite of Paul Haggis’ turgid The Next Three Days, which dawdled and dragged its way through a similar situation for two-plus hours. Of course, Haggis’ movie was based on Cayavé’s earlier thriller Anything for Her; here’s hoping Haggis doesn’t go anywhere near that inevitable American version of Point Blank.

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