Point Blank (À bout portant): Film Review

A bullet train of a movie where a man has only hours to save his wife amid rival gangsters and trigger-happy police.

French writer-director Fred Cavayé orchestrates a heart-pounding thriller revolving around a woman in jeopardy and her loving husband’s desperate attempts to save her.

The heart-pounding French thriller Point Blank (À bout portant) is a high-wire act that almostslips as it edges perilously closer and closer to the edge of improbability. But it never does. When it’s over and you finally exhale, you remember this is what got you hooked on movies in the first place: a film’s ability to stimulate you through words, action and images so you can lose yourself in a story where anything is possible.

In this glow of satisfaction, you may also wonder: Hey, how can a guy get shot, be hit by a speeding motorcycle and still race all over Paris in a couple of day? Or why would any cop shoot a gun in a crowded Métro station? Any number of startling occurrences such as these flash by so fast you accept them in the moment.

The film from writer-director Fred Cavayé can’t claim any greater meaning beyond a woman in jeopardy and her loving husband’s desperate attempts to save her. In other words, it doesn’t want to embrace anything the least bit profound. It wants only to thrill — and so it does. The film, which has been a hit in France and played in Tribeca earlier this year, should do extremely well in North American art-house venues.

The movie begins with a chase sequence where an audience has no idea who anyone is or what’s at stake. Afterwards, the film hits its only few minutes of calm before the storm when a hospital nurse in training, Samuel (Gilles Lellouche), visits a gynecologist with his very pregnant wife Nadia (Spanish actress Elana Anaya). This establishes the love and concern Samuel has for his vulnerable — she needs complete bed rest — wife.

Back at work, Samuel is overseeing among other patients the injured man seen running minutes earlier, whose name is Hugo Sartet (Roschdy Zem). Someone sneaks in and tries to pull the plug on Sartet but Samuel’s quick response saves the man. Samuel will pay dearly for his good deed.

Returning home, he is knocked unconscious by an unknown assailant but not before he witnesses the kidnapping of Nadia. When he comes to, a cell phone rings and a voice informs him if he ever wants to see his wife alive again, he must get Sartet out of his hospital.

By this time though, Sartet is under police guard so obeying that voice will involve breaking many of the laws in the French criminal code. Things get even hairier when he realizes he and his wife are pawns of rival gangs while seemingly the entire Paris police force is coming after him. And there are rival divisions within the police that cloud the issue of who the real victim is here.

As the good guys and bad sort themselves out for the hapless man, Cavayé (working from a story he developed with Guillaume Lemans) ratchets up the tension through non-stop movement and Klaus Badelt’s percussion-heavy score. Locations maximize the opportunities for both hunters and prey — subway stations, platforms and train tracks, an abandoned paint plant, a crowded, chaotic police station and an equally chaotic hospital along with the city streets, buildings and alleys through which Samuel must maneuver with no time to do much more than react.

The acting is much better than one usually gets in fast-paced movies. Lellouche skillfully manages to marry the seemingly contrary elements of helplessness and determination, naivety and quick-witted decisiveness. Zem lets his character evolve so that audience sympathy gradually swings over to his criminal character. And remember Hitchcock’s dictate that suspense movies are only as good as their villains: Gérard Lanvin and Mireille Perrier make a pair of memorable villains.

Clearly, the camera, production design, stunts and effects must hit on all cylinders for a director to pull off a movie of this sort. Here these do in spades.

Opens: July 22 (Magnolia Pictures)
Production Companies: LGM Films, Gaumont, TF1 Films Productions, K.R Productions in association with Nexus Factory and UFund with participation of Canal+ and TPS Stsr
Cast: Gilles Lellouche, Roschdy Zem, Gérard Lanvin, Elena Anaya, Mireille Perrier
Director/screenwriter: Fred Cavayé
Story by: Fred Cavayé, Guillaume Lemans
Producers: Cyril Colbeau-Justin, Jean-Baptiste Dupont
Director of photography: Alain Duplantier
Production designer: Philippe Chiffre
Music: Klaus Badelt
Costume designer: Marie-Laure Lasson
Editor: Benjamin Weil
R rating, 84 minutes