(Fred Cavayé, 2010)
Cavayé is brutally efficient in his storytelling. Point Blank is a brisk 84 minutes, and within 15 minutes of its hectic opening scene, everything is set up, each character established, the plot already motoring along. His style is correspondingly lacking in frills, almost perfunctory. There is no poetry here - a single tableau of a car against the fragile light of dawn seems almost shocking for its ostentatious beauty - but then Cavayé tells stories of a world without poetry, a cold, urban world, a violent world of fear and close death, a world of crooked cops, desperate innocents and cynical criminals. He tells those stories well.
Here he focuses on Samuel (Gilles Lellouche), an auxilliary nurse who has the bad luck to work on the ward where a gangster (Roschdy Zem) is recovering after an accident. When his gang kidnap Samuel's pregnant wife and threaten to kill her unless Samuel can get the man out of hospital, he finds himself on the run from both the police and some criminals, and forced into a strange alliance with his erstwhile patient.
When the opening shot depicts a man with a gunshot wound bursting through a door as he flees a couple of gunmen, you can guess that pace is going to be important to the way a film functions, and Point Blank is unrelentingly pacy. Cavayé is great at establishing characters in short scenes with a few lines of dialogue and some expressions and nuances which inform our immediate understanding of how the relationship dynamics work, and so we care about Lellouche's Samuel after a couple of scenes showing us the warmth of his relationship with his Spanish wife (Elena Anaya) and professionalism and humour at work. And we need to care about him as so much of the success of the film will depend on an audience desperately hoping that he gets away.
It helps of course that Lellouche is such a fine everyman. In sharp contrast to the unflappably cool Roschdy Zem, he seems truly tested by his ordeal, and the actor portrays his panicked determination and essential vulnerability with casually truthful believability, not least after the central action sequence, a long chase on foot through the Paris Metro, which ends with him vomiting in the street. That sequence works well, but Cavayé's blandly anonymous style and Klaus Badelt's usual Zimmer-aping score make it and a few other set-pieces feel very much like the kind of thing we see regularly in Hollywood cinema. That wouldn't be a problem if Cavayé's narrative skills weren't so singularly spartan and muscular.
But as it is, this effective thriller feels like it could and perhaps should be a bit more than that; if it was Korean, for instance, it would certainly have a distinctive style that would be instantly recognisable and different from anything still offered by American commercial cinema. Cavayé settles for a Hollywood approach to a Hollywood-style story, and that seems a bit of a shame to this viewer.