Sometimes you watch a film through a prism of its own influence… here I could see the works of Steven Soderberg, Quentin Tarrantino and numerous others whilst I could also feel the influence of the contemporary European new wave of the earlier part of the decade.
Point Blank is startling from the off as your mind clicks off a constant stream of “ah, so that’s where that came froms…” It’s so stylishly constructed by British director John Boorman – a modern-day noir that also manages social commentary and to question the nature of crime and criminals.
Every action is linked to other actions and the leads are all caught up in the narrative momentum of lives lived in exhaustion and fear. This may even reflect the existential theatre of the period: Waiting for pay-off perhaps?
The tone is set in a breathless opening that sees lead character Walker (Lee Marvin) shot apparently dead at the end of a heist gone right. He is persuaded to hi-jack a regular mob cash exchange by his pal Mal Reese (John Vernon) who is in debt to organised crime and need to cover the cost or bust.
Mal pulls a drunken Walker to the floor and holds his head as close as he can in order to communicate his plan. It’s a strangely tender scene that mirrors later male and female positioning: these guys are close enough when they really need to communicate.
|John Vernon, Lee Marvin and Sharon Acker|
Lynne (Sharon Acker) hadn’t seen this coming even though she has been sharing Mal’s bed for long enough: betrayal doubled or even tripled as Mal takes the jackpot.
|Walker crawls into the sea|
Boorman’s shaky, unsteady camera follows him as he gently falls into the sea, intent on swimming from the Rock to the shore. Walker has become almost inhuman but he is a man driven by the need to balance the books than simple revenge – perhaps that’s just his way of dealing with such compound treachery.
Next we see Walker on a tourist trip back to the former prison. Deep in his own thoughts we hear details of how so few men have ever escaped from Alcatraz and none of those were carrying bullet wounds. A man approaches Walker – Yost (Keenan Wynne), who appears to be a law officer intent on catching the mob funding Mel: he says he wants to help Walker as they have joint objectives. He gives him Mel’s address, a house he shares with Lynne…
|Keenan Wynn and Lee|
Lynne is living a half-life – exhausted by guilt and Mel’s subsequent desertion. She’s like an animal waiting for the kill and her surprise at finding Walker alive is overcome by her expectation that she will – deservedly – die at his hands.
|Walker and Lynne - ending and beginning|
Walker looks out in emotionless despair to see Yost outside… time flows over weeks as he waits for one of Mel’s underlings to deliver Lynne’s monthly allowance. From him he follows a lead to a used car showroom run by the obsequious Stegman (Michael Strong). Walker smashes up one of Stegman’s cars with him in it – searching for a new lead.
|Walker discusses Stegman's options|
|Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson|
But Mel will take some getting. By this stage we have met his paymaster, Frederick Carter (Lloyd Bochner), a businessman hidden in a room protected by layers of security: keeping the outside world from tainting his commercial reputation.
|Middle and senior management|
But Walker has an ace to play: Mel was only ever after Lynne to get to her sister and will not refuse her request to visit… Chris smiles her way past the admiring guards whilst Walker sets off a distraction in a neighbouring apartment block.
|Walker confronts Mel as Chris makes her get away...|
Walker finds Mel in bed with Chris who pushes him away with revulsion, her bravery rewarded. Mel is dragged out to his fate: as certain as Lynne of what Walker is capable of. But Walker only wants his $93,000. He’s not out for revenge just balance. So, when Mel tells him that the money is with his business bosses, Walker knows the only way to get to them is by disposing of Mel…
Next up is Walker, who offers sophistication that could undo Walker but he is rising to every challenge and, when it turns out that there are still further layers to unravel in search of redress, you know he will not be found wanting…
It’s a labyrinthine plot in true noire tradition, but the difference is that Walker is driven by his sense of honour: all he has left. It’s not really about the $93,000... he's just making a point to the mob and to himself.
|Mr Lee Marvin|
But the whole cast is uniformly on top form in what is deservedly regarded as something of a classic by one of the best British film-makers of his generation.
Point Blank is available from all good online retailers like Movie Mail as well as those with dodgy tax practices.
Dusty verdict: Recommended. Buy the DVD and you won’t be disappointed.