Wednesday 15 May 2019

Movie Review: Point Blank (1967)

A stark revenge thriller, Point Blank offers hard-hitting action enhanced by large dollops of audacious style.

In San Francisco, Walker (Lee Marvin) participates in a heist of gangland money at the abandoned Alcatraz prison. He is double-crossed by his presumed partner Mal Reese (John Vernon), who not only shoots Walker but also steals his wife Lynne (Sharon Acker). Walker recovers from his injuries and is equally determined to recover his $93,000 share of the heist. He teams up with the mysterious Yost (Keenan Wynn), who also wants to find Reese and dismantle the criminal syndicate he works for.

Walker locates Lynne in Los Angeles and she leads him to car dealer Stegman (Michael Strong), who knows where Reese is hiding. Walker partners with Lynne's sister Chris (Angie Dickinson) to infiltrate Reese's fortified building. But to get his money back Walker will need to work his way up the syndicate's hierarchy, where men called Carter (Lloyd Bochner), Brewster (Carroll O'Connor) and Fairfax call the shots, and a sniper (James Sikking) dispatches threats with ruthless efficiency.

An uncompromising, almost surreal experience, Point Blank adapts The Hunter by Richard Stark into a unique hyper-kinetic film. With star Lee Marvin deeply involved in the film's production along with director John Boorman, the film combines innovative sound editing, a neo-noir visual style and bursts of resolute action interlaced with patient, frequently dialogue-free set-up sequences. An undercurrent of sardonic humour completes the package.

Boorman also plays with Walker's memories, inserting short eruptions of previous incidents (most notably his point blank shooting by Reese) to highlight the rage driving his quest for revenge. Unsubstantiated but nevertheless compelling artistic arguments can be made for the entire story to exist in Walker's mind as he lies dying at Alcatraz, his smooth, seemingly indestructible and faultless glide through the ranks of gangsters the ultimate final fantasy.

Several scenes stand out as cinematic classics. Walker purposefully strides through an empty airport hallway, the clicking of his shoes on the tiles going on for an eternity. An exotically lit fight in the backroom of a noisy bar eventually synchronizes screams of agony with the screaming of the world's most annoying singer. A nervous money exchange within the paved Los Angeles river bed turns into a delicious triple cross ambush opportunity. And when it's time to extract information from the sleazy car dealer Stegman, Walker demonstrates the values of a unique test drive.

In one his finest roles Lee Marvin cuts through Point Blank with the precision of a sharp scalpel. He is ably supported by Dickinson in a relatively small role, and a deep cast of character actors bringing life and death to layers of grim faced bad guys.

Throughout, Boorman maintains a high level of dynamism, the action swiftly bouncing between locations and the level of tension rising as Walker gets closer to the tip of the criminal pyramid. And it's not only lonely at top, but also deadly.

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