Thursday, August 11, 2005

It Came from Netflix! Point Blank

I’ve been waiting quite a long while to see Point Blank, a very well regarded noir film from the ‘60s. It’s a movie I didn’t want to see pan and scanned (which was the TV/VHS format), so until it’s recent release in all its widescreen glory on DVD, I didn’t have a shot at it. I’m glad I waited.

Remember Payback with Mel Gibson? Point Blank is based on the same book by Richard Stark. This, in turn, is the pseudonym author Donald Westlake, best known for his comic heist books, employs when writing a series of incredibly hardboiled and gritty crime novels. Most of these revolve around an all but sociopathic career criminal named Parker, whose adventures continue today, as in this year’s Nobody Runs Forever.

In fact, both Point Blank and Payback are based on The Hunter, the novel that introduced Parker, although in Point Blank the character has been renamed Walker. While Gibson’s film took a more comic tack, the original reflects the tone of the novel to a far greater extent. Starring the superlative Lee Marvin, we follow Walker as he’s betrayed after a heist by his best friend and his own wife. He’s left for dead, but survives and returns not only for revenge, but for his share of the money from the heist they all pulled.

Marvin, needless to say, is perfect in the role. The rest of the cast is great too, including an incredibly sexy Angie Dickinson as Walker’s sister-in-law. Other familiar faces include Keenan Wynn, Carol O’Connor, John Vernon (his first movie), James Sikking, and, if I’m not mistaken, a young Michael Moriarty in a small role. The movie is all Marvin’s, though, and one of his best.

It was directed by John Boorman, who like his contemporary John Frankenhiemer (The Manchurian Candidate) produced some startlingly brilliant surrealistic films before losing control and producing startlingly awful surrealistic films. In Boorman's case, the awful films include Zardoz and The Exorcist II. Point Blank, though, is one of the brilliant ones.

The film is almost hypnotically weird. At one point Marvin sits next to his wife and silently stares forward, while she carries on her half of a conversation between them. Indeed, the insanely single-minded Walker is almost a zombie. There’s a great scene where Dickinson tries to literally beat a reaction or even sign of life out of him, only to fall exhausted to the floor without managing to do so. The film’s surrealism has lead some to posit that Walker died when he was betrayed, and that the movie’s events are merely his last imaginings. I’m a little too literal, though, so I’ll dismiss that stuff.

Much of this is discussed on a commentary track on which director Steven Soderbergh joins and shepherds comments by Boorman. Considering Boorham’s hilariously awful solo commentary on the Zardoz DVD, you can only be glad this is the case. Soderbergh freely admits that he used Point Blank as a template for much of his own The Limey, as would be immediately apparent to anyone who’s seen both films.

However, Soderbergh is perhaps a bit too much of a director, and mostly keeps the discussion aimed at technical matters such as the film’s admittedly fascinating color design. (And no, I’m not being sarcastic.) However, little attention is paid to the fascinating supporting cast. It made me wish for a second commentary with Quentin Tarantino, who undoubtedly could gush on about the actors alone for an hour and a half.

Anyway, a great, four star movie. For a fantastic double bill, watch this with the 1971 version of Get Carter, starring Michael Caine.


At 10:44 AM, Blogger BeckoningChasm said...

There's an awful lot of Badhams in there. Does he have anything to do with Point Blank, or is it just a case of too many John Bs?

At 11:07 AM, Blogger Ken Begg said...

Got me. I'll clean that up!

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