No, I don’t mean the 2010 French action film of the same name, nor the 1991 blockbuster Point Break with Keanu Reeves. I mean John Boorman’s 1967 crime thriller, starring Lee Marvin and co-starring Angie Dickinson. Why has the BFI chosen to unearth this film so long after its original release? After watching it, I’m still not quite sure.
Point Blank is a standard revenge tale, based on Donald E. Westlake’s novel The Hunter. When Walker (Lee Marvin) and his partner in crime Mal Reese (John Vernon) carry out a heist on Alcatraz, Walker is shot by Reese and left for dead. Miraculously, Walker manages to survive and recover. As the narrative unfolds, he discovers the full extent of Reese’s betrayal. In addition to joining a crime syndicate opaquely referred to as “the organisation”, Reese has taken all the stolen money as well as Walker’s wife Lynne (Sharon Acker) for himself. Determined to get his share of the money, Walker embarks on a vengeful quest.
Boorman’s use of disjunctive, European New-Wave-like editing seems to have been inspired by directors such as Truffaut. Unconventional camera angles and varied lighting compensate for the rather threadbare story. The saturated colours of Los Angeles and San Francisco provide a lively backdrop, with long stretches of silence and intermittent flashbacks creating an almost surreal atmosphere. As a result, some critics argue that the entire film is Walker’s dream. Its forte lies in its artful cinematography, conveying the angst and anger that the introspective Walker experiences.
Given the cruel deal played out by Reese’s deception, one would expect Walker to appeal to the audience’s sympathy. But he’s hardly a likable character: a cold, detached composure contrasts with occasional outbursts of violence. His pursuit to recover the trivial 93,000 dollars prompts all sorts of questions about his morality and motivation to settle the score.
The level of action in the film could be graphically represented as a flat line with occasional sharp spikes. The highlights, such as the gunfight at Alcatraz, the blackmailing of Big John (Michael Strong) and Carter (Lloyd Bochner), the threatening of Reese at point blank range, and the sniper’s (James Sikking) interference in the first trade-off scene, make for a very uneven level of tension. This, combined with the jumpy editing, makes the film seem more contrived and convoluted than need be.
These points aside, I felt somewhat ambivalent about the film once the credits started rolling. While I admired the mood of the film, the action scenes were too few and far between for it be truly captivating. The characters were a bit two-dimensional, the dialogue not particularly engaging, and the choppy editing distracted from the strengths. A well-worn plot won’t keep you on the edge of your seat, as the film is clearly style over substance. Fortunately, these flaws aren’t glaring enough to make me growl – as Walker does so often throughout the film – “I want my money back”.