In light of the recent BFI retrospective of British director John Boorman, we are reviewing the re-release of Point Blank, one of his earlier US thrillers. Boorman cut his teeth in the 60’s as a documentary maker for the BBC, before moving swiftly on to fiction features; Point Blank was one of his earliest films and one of two films made with Hollywood icon Lee Marvin. Partly inspired by the French New Wave, as the ground breaking Bonnie and Clyde was the same year, this is a revenge thriller with a remarkably experimental bent.
Lee Marvin plays Walker, a hardman lured into help his friend Mal Reese (John Vernon) complete a ‘job’ when Reese falls into hardship. A supposedly simple case of intercepting a money package at a disused prison, the tables turn for Walker when Reese decides to double cross him, leaving him for dead and fleeing with his wife, Lynne (Sharon Acker). Walker survives, of course, and embarks on a journey to retrieve the money that Reese owes him for the deal. On the surface Point Blank is as simple as could be, a straightforward tale of someone getting back something they’re owed, but the film is full of grey areas.
For one, there is no real sense of retribution exactly. Walker kills in a liberal fashion, but he is not motivated by revenge or anger. A stoic, simple man, this is simply about getting the money that was rightfully owed to him (no matter that the money was dirty in the first place). Strangely, the initial antagonist is dispatched relatively early in the story, and it then becomes a film about Walker trying to fight an almost invisible force: corporate America. The villains are hardly villainous, just bland men in suits trying to make money, and here comes this hefty thug trying to settle a personal score. Boorman and his writers have noted the disparity between the individual and the faceless corporate world. In this recession era, Walker could have been a strange and beguiling anti-hero.
Walker is a man of few words, he lets others do the talking and lets his actions speak for themselves. Marvin’s understated performance has a tragic quality to it, a beaten man trying to rescue some dignity and purpose in a corrupt world. He may work on different principles and codes to the average audience member, but his stubborn drive to maintain them is oddly admirable. Vernon makes for an able antagonist, an amoral, slimy man with a low, booming voice.
Boorman directs with flair in abundance. A wild fight scene in a jazz club is one of the highlights; an incessant, funky band plays as Marvin dismantles two thugs with all the care of a rampant bull. Hallucinogenic projections from the club add to the disarray, bathing the brawlers in luminous reds and greens. Elsewhere the sound design is used with creativity, as Walker’s booming footsteps are heightened to give an ominous, hypnotic beat. Even costume contributes, with the garish orange and yellow shirts and dresses signalling Walker’s reintroduction into society, after the muted intro colours. Point Blank has stood the test of time both for its technical ingenuity and its pertinent social message. A deserved cult classic.