By KJ Doughton | July 25, 2011

BOOM!  “Point Blank” will shoot you from a cannon, and you won’t hit the ground until its closing credits. Your jowls will ripple from the forward momentum. You’ll vibrate and rattle like test pilot Chuck Yeager chasing the sound barrier. Seriously. This film MOVES. Take the bravura chase of a Brian De Palma film like “Carlito’s Way,” graft it onto “The Fugitive,” and throw in French sub-titles. Magnifique!

“Point Blank” is an action-movie motorcycle that tosses you into traffic and bounces you several feet across rough pavement. You might emerge from the rubble a battered mess… but no brain injuries allowed. That’s because director Fred Cavayé stubbornly insists that your noggin hum on overdrive during the entire adrenaline-soaked thrill ride. Scrutinize the film a second time for details, and you’ll be hard-pressed to detect continuity flaws or sloppy editing.

But hold on. This isn’t some sleek, “stylized” exercise in empty kicks and cold technical precision. “Point Blank” is, first and foremost,  a passionate love story.  A REAL love story, ferociously realized by actors Gilles Lellouche and Elena Anaya. He’s a nursing student named Samuel. She’s Nadia, his scrumptiously beautiful, very pregnant wife.  He fawns over her. He dotes on her. She’s about to burst, but still wants to make out. There’s no doubt that these two are crazy about each other.  

The mood isn’t as welcoming at the hospital where Samuel struggles to finish up his nursing apprenticeship. While he’s answering call lights and placing bedpans, Samuel becomes distracted by an intruder. Our hero is rattled to find that this fleeing mystery man has severed the oxygen tube of Hugo Sartet (Roschdy Zem), an injured, bed-bound patient. Samuel quickly employs his competent nursing skills to keep the gasping man alive until additional help arrives.

In the world of “Point Blank,” however, saving a life can be hazardous to your health. During a brutal and abrupt home invasion, Samuel is pistol-whipped and Nadia abducted. Regaining his consciousness, Samuel responds to a ringing cell phone. He’s ordered to smuggle Sartet, the very man he saved, out of the hospital. He has three hours. Fail this mission, and Nadia takes a bullet.

Who is Sartet? Why is he in such high demand? Where is Nadia, and is she alive?   

The rest of “Point Blank” is one magnificent, perfectly-paced chase. Its human circle inhabits a moral gray zone where underworld thugs just might be your salvation, and cops would just as soon throw your wife through a high-rise window than enforce the law. Characters are snuffed, “Alien” and “Psycho” style, in sudden, unannounced bursts of violence. Even secondary, peripheral cops and gangsters are brought to life through subtle gestures and reactions.  When a crooked cop blows a ring of smoke into her prisoner’s face, it’s as chill-inducing as a Mafioso’s kiss of death.  

Some films profess to be “thrillers,” but they’re so limp and generic, the only REAL thrill they provide is the promise of sleep to an insomnia. Cavayé catches his viewers off-guard with sneaky, stealth-like moves and rhythms, forcing them to walk on eggshells for 84 unpredictable minutes.  Like Tarantino’s best work, you never quite know what’s coming. You brace yourself for the worst. But Cavayé’s most deliciously fresh twist might be that sometimes, things DON’T turn out as bad as you think.

“Point Blank” is a brilliant exercise in sustained suspense. But ultimately, its staying power is fueled by a husband’s fierce yearning for his endangered wife and unborn child. We want Samuel and Nadia to make it. We’re invested in their survival.

“Point Blank” is a direct shot through the forehead. But you’ll hit the floor smiling.

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