After beavering away at a variety of short films for ten years or so, Fred Cavayé finally hit the big time when his first feature, Pour Elle, hit screens in 2008. Unfortunately, it was almost immediately hijacked by an excruciating US remake which obliterated all the best bits of the original with a swirling shitstorm of Russell Crowe, Liam Neeson and REALLY SERIOUS SERIOUSNESS. Cavayé’s new film A bout portant (that’s ‘At point blank range’ or Point Blank to you and I) is in many ways similar to Pour Elle, with two important differences: Russell Crowe’s come nowhere near it, and it’s better.
Trainee nurse Samuel (Lellouche) couldn’t be happier – he’s about to qualify as a fully-fledged Florence Nightingale type, his lovely wife Nadia (Elena Anaya) is heavily pregnant, and he’s got a rather sexy stubbly thing going on. However, things are about to change (apart from the stubble); Samuel catches a mysterious man trying to murder one of his patients, an unnamed RTA victim who, as we know from a handy prequel sequence, acquired his injuries whilst running away from some dangerous looking men with guns. Samuel foils the murder attempt but has barely got home when he’s knocked out to the sound of Nadia’s screams – he wakes up to discover that she’s been abducted and he’s got a job to do.
The unlucky patient in Samuel’s ward is none other than notorious criminal Hugo Sartet (Zem), and he’s in grave danger. Sartet’s confederates are determined to break him out of the hospital before it’s too late, and they’ve hit upon the nifty idea of using Nadia as leverage to make Samuel dance to their tune. Given just three hours to abscond with Sartet against the wishes of the Parisian police force (some of whom seem distinctly suspicious), Samuel is pushed into the unlikely role of man on the lam as his forced collusion with Sartet takes him distinctly onto the wrong side of the law.
Those who have seen Pour Elle or The Next Three Days will immediately notice the fairly hefty motif recycling that’s gone on between Cavayé’s last film and Point Blank. Mild-mannered everyman with no experience of the rougher side of life: check. Crying, talking, sleeping, walking living MacGuffin whose unfortunate circumstances drive the plot? Check. Improbable sequence of events in which Everyman Chap has to draw on unexpected reserves of badassery just to survive? Check. The set-up for Point Blank is just as contrived as many other action films, but you’ll probably be distracted by how damn exciting it is.
It’s always dangerous to comment on a script based on how it’s subtitled, but the dialogue in Point Blank is eminently believable, keeping things appropriately terse without making recourse to the infamous Macho Gruff patois or gratuitous swearing (I counted just one ‘fuck’, extraordinary these days in a 15-rated film). Gilles Lellouche and Roschdy Zem, both of whom have been turning up in quite a few films over the last year or so (catch Lellouche in Little White Lies and Adèle Blanc-Sec and Zem in Outside the Law and London River) are more or less given the film to carry and do so with aplomb, with Lellouche’s façade of bravery seeming appropriately fragile and Zem’s performance blissfully devoid of 1D gangster posturing. The other main performances are universally competent, although few characters get the chance to shine – the sole exception is veteran heartthrob Gerard Lanvin, whose grizzled and arrogant police lieutenant was a delight to watch.
There may be more violence than you’d like, and there’ll certainly be too much noise – somewhere along the line, a sound editor went totally overboard with dubbing in punches and gunshots – but Point Blank is a genuinely thrilling film which packs a generous helping of both action and drama into its concise 86 minute running time. Resisting the temptation to moralise right up until the satisfyingly ambiguous ending, it’s an uncomplicated and unpretentious demonstration of just how good an action film can be if you keep Russell Crowe on another continent. Pray there’s no remake.