Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The French Fugitive: Point Blank

Don’t call it a discovery. Hollywood has already come calling French director Fred Cavayé. Unfortunately, it was Paul Haggis who remade his debut feature as The Next Three Days, but it still counts. He might have knocked the wind out of James Bond, but the jinxed former Scientologist should not derail Cavayé based on his sophomore outing, Point Blank (trailer here), which opens in New York this Friday.

In the tradition of Dr. Richard Kimball, Samuel Pierret is the wrong man—an innocent man. He also happens to be a nurse’s assistant with a very pregnant wife. After saving the life of a thug convalescing in his hospital, Pierret receives a grim ultimatum—either he delivers his shady patient, stone-cold safecracker Hugo Sartet, or he will never see his wife alive again. Pulled into a wider criminal conspiracy, Pierret learns Sartet’s kidnapping accomplice is the least of his concerns. A battalion of crooked cops are out to them both deader than dead.

There is something refreshingly old school about Blank. Rather than try to dazzle viewers with huge special effects spectacles or outlandish stunt work, Cavayé earns his thrills the honest way, forcing his characters to jump from ledges, bluff their way out of tight spots, and run for their lives through the streets of Paris.

A versatile actor, Lellouche makes a credible wrongly accused everyman in the Hitchcockian tradition. However, the film really belongs to Roschdy Zem as Sartet. Those who bemoan the paucity of masculine movies stars need to check out his filmography. Quietly intense and smoothly charismatic, Zem makes a killer noir anti-hero, occupying that rare cinematic zone of true moral ambiguity. As Sartet, he exemplifies screen presence. Overdue for international stardom after memorable appearances in films like Outside the Law, 36th Precinct, and The Girl from Monaco, Blank should finally settle the matter.

Cavayé also earns breakout props for Blank. Tightly paced and sharply executed, it is quite an agile thriller, even showing the occasional flash of mordant wit. He also demonstrates a legitimate talent for choreographing near riot scenes, deftly balancing the mass chaos with the need to show the characters’ action with clarity.

Indeed, it is easy to buy into Blank as it propels forward at a breakneck pace. Yet, it never loses sight of the gritty personal element. Even if he is not the major protagonist per se, the film is perfect star vehicle for Zem, as well as an effective showcase for Cavayé’s flair for the genre. Highly recommended, Blank opens this Friday (7/29) in New York at the Landmark Sunshine.