Point Blank Makes a Point: The French Shoot Better Thrillers Than Hollywood

By , Columnist

Magnolia Pictures

Giles Lellouche stars as an innocent man on the run in the French thriller Point Blank.

French movies used to be leisurely affairs filled with brooding existentialists who talked and talked and talked some more about fate, communism, and death.  A new breed of Paris-based action auteurs don't have time for chit chat because they're too busy out-thrilling Hollywood at its own game. Latest example: Point Blank.

The movie opens with some guy limping/running through the streets of Paris with two other guys in fast pursuit. Who's good, who's bad? No idea, but director Fred Cavayé choreographs the chase with so much elan, you hang on for dear life and trust that the particulars will be sorted out.

Sure enough, Gavaye sets up a classic Hitchcockian dilemma: innocent man gets caught in the wrong time and wrong place. Giles Lellouche plays male nurse Hugo Sartet, who escorts a wounded criminal (Roschdy Zem) from his hospital bed in order to save his beautiful, pregnant wife (Alena Anaya). He soon becomes embroiled in gun play and becomes a wanted man.

Complications pile up amid a sea of grey as corrupt cops and not-so-bad criminals hurl themselves through Paris's gritty alleyways.

The set pieces, including a breathless foot race through the Paris metro, make all the ancient action tropes seem fresh again thanks to Cavayé's brisk pacing and Lellouche's Everyman demeanor. Lellouche/Hugh comes across as a regular monsiuer who looks winded as hell by the time he escapes his tormenters.

A model of plot-twisting efficiency, Point Blank bleeds with just enough humanity to make all the running around worthwhile.

By contrast, setting aside Matt Damon's urgent sprint through the Jason Bourne movie trilogy, Hollywood rarely deliver that kind of one-two punch anymore. Mistaking screeching tires and explosions for actual suspense, American filmmakers routinely forget to create care-worthy characters so that all the sound and fury signifies something.

Into the Franco-American breech steps Liam Neeson, who has improbably become the go-to guy for thrillers by French filmmakers.Pierre Morel, a protégé of French action mogul Luc Besson, made Taken, which cast Neeson as a vengeful father who goes on the rampage after his daughter is kidnapped by Euro-trash sex traffickers. In Neeson's equally suspenseful cliffhanger Unknown, from Jaume Collet-Serra, the hulking Irish-born actor tramps through the streets of Berlin trying to unriddlle a trail of bodies related to a freaky case of mistaken identity.

There's more artful thrills coming in September, no thanks to home-grown talent. Cannes Film Festival award winner Drive promises white knuckle suspense on par with Steven McQueen's car chase classic Bullitt.

Drive director Nicolas Refn is from Denmark.

Vive l’action!

Point Blank opens Friday.

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Los Angeles-based writer/musician Hugh Hart covers movies, television, design, art and miscellaneous slices of pop culture for publications including Wired Magazine, Los Angeles Times and New York Times. When he's not interviewing people like Quentin Tarantino or Lindsay Lohan, Hugh likes to glug black…

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