Point Blank is a straight-up action flick. There’s not much attempt to exist on a deeper level than that, and in a lot of ways, that’s what makes it a success. It has an awesome extended chase scene, and there’s really no room to stop to get your bearings for 70 or the 84 total minutes. In opposition to all of that fun are more than a few shallow characterizations and cliches. Luckily, none of these flaws really matter in a movie that is more concerned with running and shooting (and, thankfully, believability) than with human analysis.
Gilles Lellouche plays Samuel, a nurse’s aid whose pregnant wife Nadia (Elena Anaya) is taken hostage and used for blackmail to force Samuel to spring criminal Hugo Sartet (Roschdy Zem) from the hospital. Things aren’t so easy, as various police factions – some straight-shooting, some corrupt – and other criminals try to stop the escape.
The script for Point Blank is as clever as it needs to be, and in fact, it doesn’t rely on any earth-shattering reveals. There’s a mid-film moment of “about-to-die-exposition” that comes close to rivaling the “villain-telling-the-hero-his-plan” cliche, but Point Blank transcends these (rather stupid) plot points by utilizing a script that is straight out of Screenwriting 101: write visually and not aurally, introduce clear obstacles and goals, hit your climax at the 2/3 point, and bring everything to a neat resolution.
The chase scene mentioned begins at 41:10 and goes to 46:50 – a 5:40 sequence. It’s not Butch Cassidy-long, but that’s a long time for a foot-race. I’ve talked in past blog about getting energy into the frame, and Cavaye does a great job with that here, using a ton of foreground elements, a combination of handheld and static camera, and literally running his character ragged.
Though this sequence is just damn fun to watch, it’s also a great look at what elements make up a successful chase scene in terms of geography and surroundings. When running throughout a city, it would quite easy to lose the viewer – where are we? Where are the pursuers? Where is the pursued? Where are they in relation to each other? How close are they?
Cavaye, as with any good director in a scene such as this, keeps things glued together largely in three ways: 1) screen direction, 2) individual shots, 3) repeated locations, 4) verbal exposition. These might be obvious, but when edited together in a fast-paced environment things can quickly fall apart.
Screen direction: this is simple. Think of that opening chase scene on the rooftops in Vertigo. When characters run one direction on-screen, let’s say right to left, if there is an edit, they would then enter frame right and continue moving right to left. If, after an edit, the same character was suddenly moving left to right without us having seen them change direction on-screen, we’d be disoriented.
The same is true during a chase. Samuel runs left to right:
And the cop chasing him does the same in the subsequent shot:
This = they are running in the same direction. Because the shot of the cop follows that of Samuel, we know that Samuel is in front of the cop. Easy stuff.
To give the viewer an idea of proximity, and also to keep spatial relations clear, Cavaye also frequently uses the same shot (ie doesn’t cut) to show both Samuel and the cops after him. For example, this shot starts with Samuel in the foreground:
And then pans and tilts to show the cops coming behind him:
Whether we actually register that there was no edit/cut between these two – and that it’s one continuous shot – or not, the idea is to physically put them in the same camera run, thereby emphasizing their closeness.
To continue to orient the viewer, Cavaye repeats locations. After Samuel runs down an alley and towards stairs:
The cop follows into the same recognizable location – recognizable because of the chain link fence, the composition, and the steps:
Cavaye does more with location. Here, Samuel runs out and Cavaye finally cuts from a close-up to a wide-shot. The wide-shot two below gives us (as well as Samuel) a chance to orient ourselves, again using something pretty universally recognizable – a subway stop:
We see Samuel run down the stairs, and, after a shot of him on the stairs, get a cut back to the cops. We don’t see the same wide-shot (though I’m sure Cavaye had that option). Instead, we see them in medium close-up and Cavaye uses the same subway railing and the fact that they turn (screen-direction) in the same direction as Samuel as indicators that they too are descending into the subway:
Then he goes on a run of repeating locations once inside the subway, with moments like this:
The turnstiles, the slight green, the similar action, all indicate the chase and lay it out clearly.
None of this feels like overkill, simply because it all moves so fast, and because simple suspense runs throughout – will Samuel get away?
The last bit of info that Cavaye uses is verbal exposition. In Point Blank he puts one of the characters into the video monitor room in the subway and that character then calls out to the other cops over a walkie-talkie as to Samuel’s whereabouts. It keep up the suspense, sure, but it also tells us where everyone is.