Tuesday, July 16, 2013

FI: Point Blank (1967)

Point Blank
US, 1967
Directed by John Boorman

Sometimes a film's primary focus isn't on establishing plot or character, but on setting a tone or mood, then examining plot and character by the light of the feeling that tone creates. John Boorman's Point Blank is that kind of movie. While it economically sets up an urban crime story—one that feels at home both alongside the noir films that inspired it and the gritty procedurals that constitute the genre's 70's heyday—Point Blank is primarily concerned with projecting a state of mind. It's a film about trauma, the trauma that its mononymous lead character Walker (an inscrutable Lee Marvin, hard as ever) has experienced in the past, and the trauma he metes out in his efforts to get back what he has lost.

Walker is betrayed just before the film begins, shot and left for dead by his former partner Mal Reese (John Vernon) on a heist in the recently-abandoned Alcatraz, then thrown over by his wife Lynne (Sharon Acker), who runs off with Reese as Walker lies bleeding. Boorman ably intertwines story, theme and film style, depicting this backstory via flashbacks from Walker's disoriented, wounded perspective. Walker survives, escapes the island, and recovers from his physical wounds, though his psychic wounds run much deeper. This is visualized via impressionistic shooting and editing techniques culled from the French New Wave: we witness half-unspoken conversations that seem to take place partly in Walker's mind, while jump cuts and point-of-view shifts feature prominently. Philip H. Lathrop's photography and compositions all work to externalize Walker's mental state in a visual language of sparseness, obscurity, and shadow.

After the first thirty or so minutes, the film's style settles down a bit and a more traditional thriller unfolds. Walker pieces things together with the help of his sister-in-law (a terrific Angie Dickinson) and the mysteriously-knowledgeable Yost (Keenan Wynn), and begins to plot out and enact his revenge. But the film is never really about his revenge, even as it depicts the scheming, violence, and cat-and-mouse games through which it takes place. Point Blank is always squarely about Walker's trauma-fragmented mind, his interrupted life and the questing, unfulfilled state this interruption has left him in—reminding me of a less-damaged Leonard from Memento, another trauma-afflicted antihero left perpetually ready to act in the name of recovering an idealized past that's permanently out of reach. Even if you're not into more experimental, "arty" films, try to give this one a chance, and be sure to stick with it at least halfway. I'll be shocked if you're not hooked into the film's rhythms by then and anxiously awaiting a resolution, much like Walker himself.


  1. Be curious to read your take on Boorman's next film after this, Hell in the Pacific. And then Zardoz and Exorcist II.

    1. I love HELL IN THE PACIFIC. How could you go wrong with Boorman, Marvin, and Mifune? Just a brilliantly managed film. The others, well, I haven't seen them. ZARDOZ scares me by reputation, and I've always sort of pretended THE EXORCIST was a one-off film ;)