Last fall, Paul Haggis made “The Next Three Days,” starring Russell Crowe as an ordinary man trying to get his falsely accused wife out of prison. It was a remake of a French film called “Anything for Her” (“Pour elle”), written and directed by one Fred Cavaye. “The Next Three Days” faded quickly from public consciousness, and “Anything for Her” was never released in the United States, but Cavaye may soon find himself enjoying Stateside notoriety. His new film, “Point Blank” (“A bout portant”), already a moderate box-office success in France, has been picked up for U.S. distribution by Magnolia Pictures, and it’s exactly the kind of taut, fast-paced, intelligent thriller that audiences love.
Cavaye doesn’t drift very far from his previous subject matter. In “Point Blank,” an ordinary man named Samuel (Gilles Lellouche) must act to save his wife, Nadia (Elena Anaya) — who’s eight months pregnant! — from villains who are holding her hostage. In exchange for her safe release, they want Samuel, a nurse, to help one of their fellow criminals escape from the hospital where he’s currently being treated under close police supervision. The patient, Hugo (Roschdy Zem), was introduced to us in the movie’s opening moments, when he was about to be shot by other bad guys but was hit by a motorcycle before they got the chance.
The police, led by tough-as-nails Commandant Fabre (Mireille Perrier), don’t know that Samuel had a somewhat valid reason for busting Hugo out of the hospital. All they know is that a fugitive has escaped, that a nurse helped him do it, and that someone else altogether wants the fugitive dead. (Someone tried to snuff him while he was still in the hospital.) Fabre, meanwhile, must contend with Werner (Gerard Lanvin), a condescending hotshot of a cop who insists on handling the high-profile cases himself. Since it is believed that Hugo was involved in the death of a tycoon named Meyer, Hugo’s escape falls under Werner’s purview, and so does Samuel’s involvement.
The scenario of an innocent man forced to do something illegal in order to save a loved one is an old standby; it’s hamburger, not steak. Cavaye, again co-writing with collaborator Guillaume Lemans, has no pretenses about the innovativeness of his central concept. Instead, he focuses on executing it with gusto and panache — on cooking up the best damn hamburger you ever had. The film is a lean 84 minutes long, quick but not rushed, cleverly plotted without resorting to outrageous contrivances. The acting is workmanlike, and I mean that as a compliment. Nobody’s grandstanding or chewing the scenery, but nobody’s stinking up the place, either.
You figure there is a point where Samuel merely has to call Fabre, an honest and decent cop, and tell her what’s going on. Fabre can see that Samuel has no criminal record, and it will be easy enough to verify that Nadia is missing. Samuel does call Fabre … but that’s not the end of it. I like a film that’s smart, and confident enough in its smartness not to draw attention to it with gimmicks or tricks. “Point Blank,” an exciting and single-mindedly entertaining experience, is the real deal.
A- (1 hr., 24 min.; French with subtitles; )