(À bout portant)

Dir. Fred Cavaye. France. 2010.

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In this new French crowd-pleaser a male nurse, Samuel Pierret (Gilles Lellouche) finds his pregnant wife kidnapped by thugs allied with corrupt cops. They're trying to force him to deliver an injured thief from the hospital ward where he works, and he breaks the law himself, doing anything necessary to get his wife free. Point Blank is a muscular, action-packed -- no, action-overstuffed -- noir thriller from France, where they do things differently. First of all there are no explosions or car chases. Instead there is a lot of running, and some jumping and threats of pushing. There is plenty of mayhem and fighting and people get whacked. It's down to basics, you know? Back where you can taste the coffee and it's strong and black. In place of a soundtrack of numbing crashes and booms, there is an insistently pulsating musical score. The action is so fast and efficient the whole payload is delivered in a lean and mean 80 minutes. It even finds time for a homage to Beinix's Eighties classic Diva with its motif, the aria from Catalani's La Wally, though that doesn't mean we get a moment to breathe. In its way Point Blank is a thoroughbred. As was also shown by Guillaume Canet's exciting Tell No One (which pauses more for breath and delivers a more complex plot) the French now know better than Hollywood how to provide action muscle without the steroids of a wasteful budget, CGI, and megastars. Tell No One has a lot of famous actors, because Canet himself is a heartthrob and could call on a raft of thespian friends. Point Blank (À bout portant) has fewer, and they're lower key. But they deliver.

Chief among these is Roschdy Zem, a Frenchman of Arab ancestry who is one of the most popular and well-known actors in France. He is Hugo Sartet, the injured thief, who has gone astray from the criminal band he works for. Zem has an understated muscularity. Even lying unconscious in a hospital bed he somehow sizzles. Another charismatic actor is Gérard Lanvin, as Comissioner Patrick Werner. His ruined handsomeness means you'd better watch out for him. There are others, but my favorite of all was Mireille Perrier, as Commandant Fabre, who heads a rival police team. I almost said rival gang. Perrier is a petite, feisty dame with a small, steely voice. Her slightly sleepy eyes look on the world with cool suspicion at all times. Alas, Fabre is knocked out early in the game. These folks play for keeps.

Pierret, whose wife Nadia (Elena Anaya) is a sweetheart, is a sympathetic everyman drawn into foul play in a good cause, just like François Cluzet in Tell No One, or many a Hitchcock hero. I don't know if an ordinary man could do what Pierret does, but I've never had my pregnant wife kidnapped by men who want me to win her back. At one point Pierret stops around a corner after running from a bunch of vicious killers. He gasps for breath and then throws up, like an aging rowing coach on the first day of training. Pierret looked sort of goofy fooling around with his wife on the sofa, but he's all business now. As for Hugo Sartet, who finds himself teamed up with Pierret, he has a hole in his stomach that they fixed at the hospital but it keeps coming undone, yet he is still armed and dangerous seven years later, in the somewhat silly epilogue. You might think that's not possible. But you're not Roschdy Zem.

The only way to expose the corrupt cops is to break into a vault at central police headquarters. To make this possible, Pierret and Sartet create a state of chaos in the station that is the epitome of how this movie works. It teeters on the brink of total disorder. But remember, this movie is lean and mean, so even at its most complex, it doesn't lose track of what it's doing. This whole movie, but especially the police station sequence, is some kind of tour de force. The aim is to make danger and excitement elements in every frame. Sure, it's overdone. The music isn't as bombastic as a blockbuster's, but it's still over-insistent. The frenetic pace and well-edited action keep things going at all times, but one has only to pause for a moment to see that nearly everything is preposterous. (So is Harlan Cobin's plot for Tell No One, but he worked hard to be coherent and convincing; this doesn't). Worst of all, the ghosts of Hitchcock and Jean-Pierre Melville hover over Point Blank, but they are disappointed. Still, it all works, and nobody has put together quite this kind of precipitous actioner before.

Chris Knipp

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Chris Knipp

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