Wednesday, September 10, 2008

#64: Point Blank


Point Blank
Directed by John Boorman
Written by Alexander Jacobs, David Newhouse and Rafe Newhouse (based on Donald E. Westlake's novel "The Hunter")
Released August 30, 1967

To say Point Blank starts out with a bang would be an understatement. Lee Marvin isn't onscreen for more than a second before he's catching bullets. The opening credits haven't even finished and one of cinema's greatest badasses -- and the star of this movie -- is seemingly dead before our eyes?

Well, of course he's not, but it's a hell of a start to one of the coolest action movies of the late 1960s. Point Blank, directed by John Boorman (Deliverance, Excalibur and one of the worst movies of all time, Zardoz), is the story of Marvin's Walker, a criminal double crossed and left for dead by his wife (Sharon Acker) and his partner Mal Reese (John Vernon). By the time those opening credits finish, Walker is on the war path and out for revenge.

Unfortunately for Walker, Reese has made good use of his time away from his old friend and is now a member of a crime family called The Organization. If this sounds at all familiar, it might be because this film was remade in 1999 as the Mel Gibson vehicle Payback, one of the few movies where Gibson plays a "bad" guy and easily one of his best films. Of course, Gibson couldn't resist fucking with the movie, taking the film from director Brian Helgeland and hacking out 15 minutes that would be restored in a later version (to Gibson's credit, he also added some great stuff as well). I intend to review the Payback director's cut here in the future.

Point Blank, like Walker and Marvin, is a machine of a movie; there's no fat on the bones, and not a wasted second. Even the few moments of dreamlike calm lull you into a sort of false sense of quietude before they're shattered by unexpected explosions of gunfire and violence. Walker moves at such a breakneck pace that you're convinced the movie is only going to last about 20 minutes.

Lee Marvin is pretty much the Terminator, and his $93,000 is his John Connor. Luckily, this Terminator has a little time for Angie Dickinson, who plays his ex-wife's friend (and, as a few lines of dialogue hint, possible lover) and one of the pawns in his game at getting his money back. She's pretty much the only woman who can go toe-to-toe with Marvin, and the scene where she slaps the shit out of him and raises a little of her own hell is so relentless that it borders on hilarious.

Cold, calculating and practically emotionless, Point Blank's shark-like methodology is echoed in the set design and costumes, with splashes of color used sparingly (and usually to distract the eyes of the "bad guys," like Dickinson's clothes or the psychedelic lights in the club scene). Walker's need for his payment is like that shark's need for food: it knows no emotion, and nothing can distract it from its singular goal.

For more on Point Blank:
- Movie information at IMDB and Wikipedia.
- Buy the DVD.

The Point Blank trailer, which - like all 60s and 70s trailers - gives away too much:

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