Point Blank (À bout portant)
So everything was looking good for a strong thriller. While I thought that Pour Elle didn't quite deliver in the way it's remake The Next Three Days did it was still a good thriller. There had been a few films written and directed from Cavayé since then and the blurb for Point Blank read well.
It had all the elements a thriller needed, particularly an innocent, average man caught up in a conspiracy, forced to cope and deal with things he'd never before experienced. Sounded classic.
To me it seemed a very negative little speech and felt a little snobbish. Of course it wasn't as good, after all it was American and not in a foreign language. While it is true that it isn't a French film and I do believe that European cinema does have a firm grasp on thrillers, it doesn't mean that Hollywood can't do it right and that they don't have the talent there to do it, they do, and Paul Haggis showed that.
Anyway we aren't here to discuss The Next Three Days, we're actually here to talk about Point Blank (À bout portant).
The film tells the story of a man who is in the wrong place at the wrong time, on night shift in the local hospital he's looking after a number of patients, one of whom has just been taken in after being hit by a motorbike. The patient was running from men who were out to kill him, and when one of them comes to the hospital to finish the task the hospital employee saves his life and raises the alarm, and from then on the hospital is closely guarded.
The hospital employee's pregnant wife is kidnapped and the men threaten to kill her should he not do what they request, that is getting the patient out of the hospital and delivering him to them, and this is where his life begins to spiral out of control and he gets caught up in a terrifying conspiracy.
There are a lot of classic thriller elements to the film, and the claim of the co-director of the GFF that Fred Cavayé's thrillers have much more depth to them than Hollywood doesn't really hold true for this film owes a lot more to Hollywood thrillers than his previous. However just because I mentioned Hollywood isn't a bad thing, the film is good, it had me on the edge of my seat at times, surprised at others, and at a couple of moments disappointed.
The film starts off building the characters and their emotional connection really well and very naturally, I found myself engaged by their story really quickly, a little smirk at a moment, a laugh, and a little "awww" at another, they were all there and it took only a few minutes to be invested in the upcoming family.
It then doesn't waste any time racing forward with the thriller, the pace was tight and fast, leaping straight to the next important scene from the previous without wasting any time at all. That's good because it never gives you time to take a breather, you're forever racing to keep up and being dragged along just behind the crest of the story along with the characters, however there isn't much space for character development from this point on.
There are no over explanations, in fact you don't even get explanations that tell the story further than the main character sees it, another aspect of thrillers that I believe is crucial, you have to discover the story with the character. With Point Blank it does this from the beginning, revealing little snippets of the different characters back stories and allowing us to try and piece things together, usually not altogether correctly, well not to begin with.
As the film races forward the events around our main character take some twists and turns and begin to spiral out of his control. Not only is everything about his life seemingly gone, but he's thrown into another completely different life that is more akin to the movies than to his own life. It's great to see this happen and feel as though you're part of it, powered along and as confused as the main character, not be allowed to take a breath for a moment.
Cavayé doesn't let us sit back and treats us to a superbly formed chase sequence that does let Hollywood see a thing or two. The camera allows us to see all that's happening, and none of it is over the top or huge stunts, it's an honest to goodness chase sequence with the camera pulled back to let us see what's happening, plus there's a nicely added layer to it that allows for the tension to be ramped up and the weight stacked against the man we're rooting for.
I have to take issue with a few things though, during that chase sequence there's an effect that starts off being stylish and then just becomes a little irritating and obvious through overuse. There's a shake of the camera as though to say "where's the character", then the camera halts like "oh we've found them" and then we get treated to an extra zoom in, so the character is right in the fore, just like a final "there they are" moment. It becomes more noticeable as the chase progresses and distracts from the actual events.
Some Hollywood moments start to creep in here, such as the start of the chase sequence where there's a chance to solve everything that's about to happen, it's a little stretch to see the chance turn away from them, but then the writer had to keep the story going. That and the moment where our lead escapes through the underground tunnels and by a speeding train, leaving a conveniently placed door open behind him to show the pursuers where he's headed.
The chase doesn't keep going for too long before the main characters turn and head towards the centre of the problems, a nest of danger for them both, and this is where our main character finds his fighting metal, where he's cornered. It's good to see and it adds to the tension and the action and really delivers some of the strong moments of the story.
However, there is a moment here that shows just how much of a Hollywood thriller it is, and again I'll say that's no bad thing for Hollywood thrillers can be just as good. Yet there is one sequence where everything that good thrillers should be about are thrown out the window just as one of the characters is about to be.
It's here where we see the continuity of the story dropped, we're cutting back and forth between characters watching one being dragged along towards a window in an extra long bathroom, every time we cut back they're struggling a little closer, and another character in a fight where the camera cuts away just before the conclusion. Cut back to the bathroom scene and we're on our second lucky escape from being thrown out the window, cornered again for the third attempt just as the other character magically appears from nowhere to save the day. Not that he was searching through a multi-floored building room by room which was filled with hundreds of panicked people racing about, oh no, I'm sure the story didn't just engineer the save because there seemed no other way to do it.
However let's be fair, this is one sequence out of the whole film, and while there isn't a great depth to the thriller over, it is very effective at building tension and keeping the pace and excitement going.
From this point things do seem to be resolved just a little too easily, but there's a second ending which is satisfying and does tread a little differently.
The performances are strong and there are a lot of great looking faces to fill the screen, not of the magazine adorned faces we see in Hollywood but more rugged and real faces from a great mix of actors. The lead Samuel Pierret, played by Gilles Lellouche, performs well along with the colder more calculated Hugo Sartet, played by Roschdy Zem, against whom you really start to feel that Pierret's in a permanent state of panic, his fear absolutely tangible at times. Coupled with strong editing and pace and his story really moves forward relentlessly.
You do make a good connection with them too, which might be surprising for some as the film doesn't really concentrate on the characters, it spends some time connecting us to them early on, which it does a fantastic job of, and then hits the thriller route and from there we're really only doing any development. So it's a little surprising that at times there are some moments where you are genuinely concerned and frightened for the characters, mainly for the woman and the child, an aspect of the character that is used perfectly during some of the more dramatic moments.
The story is kept pretty real and gritty when we're focusing on the characters, okay the events to bring us to the police station near the end might be a little far fetched, but when we're in tight with the characters things are kept on our level, never leaping into Bourne action territory, and that's another aspect of that long chase sequence that is rather enjoyable to watch.
Point Blank, or À bout portant, is a strong thriller that easily rivals Hollywood thrillers, especially as it takes out the more fantastical and over the top elements that they seem so keen in building up. The characters are engaging, the story has some surprising and enjoyable twists and turns, and if it wasn't for just a few sequences I would be praising this film even more.
As it is though, anyone who enjoys thrillers will enjoy this film, exciting and at times and at others bringing you close to the edge of your seat, it does show that Fred Cavayé is becoming quite a force with the dramatic thriller. I wonder how long it will be before this film is remade, and even before Cavayé is moving to Hollywood.