Totally exciting, wildly preposterous: French police thriller ‘Point Blank’ knocks us out, then keeps right on going

Point Blank/2010/Magnolia Pictures/90 min.

French police thrillers, especially the classics by Clouzot, Chabrol and Melville, used to be a bit more plausible and psychologically acute than their American counterparts – explosive action shoot-’em-ups that have mostly tried to knock us on our asses. Not so these days. The French cops-and-robbers hit movie “Point Blank” out-Yanks the Yanks by knocking us on our derrieres in the first few minutes – and then keeps it up, racing like hell on wheels for the next 80.

That’s the good news: It’s an exciting movie. The bad news is that, like many of its U.S. counterparts, it doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense. The other good news is that writer/director Fred Cavayé’s movie is so well-gunned and goes by so damned fast, you barely notice the holes as you bounce over them.

Gilles Lellouche as Samuel is caught between the crooks and the cops.

The plot, jam-packed into the movie’s screamingly fast running time, has to do with a hit man named Hugo Sartet (Roschdy Zem, the somberly magnetic actor of “Days of Glory”) who’s been betrayed and nearly killed. He winds up in the hospital in the custody of the police and the care of a low-key male nurse, Samuel Pierret (the amiable and wonderfully nervous Gilles Lellouche).

Samuel saves Hugo from more would-be assassins and then, to his horror, finds himself trapped between the crooks and the cops – and the crooks who are cops (quite a lot of them, as it turns out). Under the evil command of the Teutonic-looking Commandant Patrick Werner (Gerard Lanvin), who’s actually conducting the investigation of his own crimes, those rogue police start chasing Hugo and Samuel all around Paris.

And, for insurance, they kidnap Samuel‘s beautiful wife Nadia (Elena Anaya), who’s eight months pregnant – threatening her death unless Samuel helps them. Soon Samuel and Hugo have become friends, of a sort, and a large section of Paris has become a bloody battleground.

I told you it didn’t make much sense. And, as I said, it doesn’t really matter. Cavayé, an ex-fashion photographer with a good eye and a blistering sense of pace, also made the big French neo-noir hit “Pour Elle,” which was translated and Americanized into the savagely improbable Russell Crowe thriller “The Next Three Days.” (Hollywood copied it so fast that Cavayé’s French original wasn’t imported and may still pop up here.)

Like Luc Besson and his disciples, Cavayé can do certain high-tech American tricks better than a lot of Americans. How does he get any suspension of disbelief, besides pure speed and kinetic rush? The leads, Zem, Lellouche and Anaya, are all excellent actors (Zem has a great glare) and they bring emotional conviction to a story you can barely believe for a minute.

The title “Point Blank,” by the way, has nothing to do with Cavayé’s original title “A Bout Portant” and nothing to do with the 1967 Lee Marvin-John Boorman noir classic “Point Blank,” which in turn was adapted from the 1962 Richard Stark-Donald Westlake novel “The Hunter,” which has nothing to do with the 1980 Steve McQueen crime thriller of the same name.

But whether you call it “Point Blank” or “A Bout Portant” or “The French Reconnection” or “Paris Goes Kaboom,” this is still one totally exciting if often wildly preposterous movie.

– Michael Wilmington

“Point Blank” opens July 29. (In French with English subtitles.)

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

Honey, your April horoscope is here …

Fate reigns supreme in film noir, but that doesn’t mean we don’t love us some zodiac fun. Hope your April is devoid of tiresome fools and fretting over taxes, and instead marked by spring’s sensual delights and adorable bunnies bearing baskets of treats. And happy birthday, Aries and Taurus! A special shout-out to Aries bad asses Bette Davis, Spencer Tracy and Gregory Peck (April 5), Francis Ford Coppola and Russell Crowe (April 7), Julie Christie and Sarah Michelle Gellar (April 14), Maria Bello (April 18) and Taurus mega-talents Jack Nicholson (April 22), Al Pacino (April 25) and Penelope Cruz (April 28).

Bette Davis

Aries (March 21-April 20): Just when you thought strong-willed Aries was aptly personified by Joan Crawford (March 26), along comes Bette Davis (April 5) to give Joan a run for her money. An actress, a fighter and a thinker, Davis was always ahead of her time. One off-screen example: When she co-founded and ran the Hollywood Canteen, a nightclub for WWII servicemen, she insisted that the venue be racially integrated, pointing out that in combat, “The black soldiers take the bullets the same as the whites.” This month, follow in her determined footsteps and, on the creative front, adhere to this Davis maxim: “Attempt the impossible in order to improve your work.” Meanwhile, live it up! Be spontaneous, sexy and silly, and don’t waste time on guilt.

Taurus (April 21-May 21): It might be high time for a spring shopping spree. But before you whip out your wallet, consider the singular beauty of a big fat bank balance; it is a sight to behold. Perhaps you could get by on last year’s haul or restrict yourself to one frugal purchase. Don’t forget to tap your crafty, ever-so-slightly conniving side to dream up a few clever April Fools’ jokes. You shouldn’t deny your adoring fans the chance to enjoy your terrific flair for fun. Be bold with your man the week of the 18th. Come to think of it, why wait till then? [Read more...]

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

‘L.A. Confidential’ a first-rate depiction of sun-baked sleaze

L.A. Confidential/1997/Warner Bros./138 min.

Life is good (and glitzy) in 1953 Los Angeles, if you don’t mind smoke and mirrors, hidden crime, rampant racism and more than a few dodgy cops. Corruption in the police force, long an undercurrent in classic noir, takes center stage in “L.A. Confidential,” a wry, stylish and devastating police drama directed by Curtis Hanson.

Hanson sets the tone of glib optimism masking darker secrets by opening the movie with shots of bright and cheerful ’50s postcards, the song “Accentuate the Positive (Eliminate the Negative)” and a Danny DeVito voiceover filling us in on some of the trouble that lurks in paradise.

The sophisticated script, by Hanson and Brian Helgeland, is based on the 1990 novel by James Ellroy, which cleverly weaves in actual Hollywood history while telling the see-speak-and-hear-all-evil story of three cops:

From left: James Cromwell, Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe and Kevin Spacey

*The jaded and jazzy Det. Sgt. Jack Vincennes (played by Kevin Spacey with a nod to Dean Martin) who pads his bank account by consulting for a TV police show (“Badge of Honor”) and feeding juicy info to “Hush Hush” tabloid columnist Sid Hudgeons (Danny DeVito). Sid meets looming deadlines with set-ups, celebrity exposés and the odd blackmail scheme. (“Hush Hush” magazine is based on the ’50s scandal mag “Confidential” and “Badge of Honor” is based on TV’s “Dragnet.”)

*Det. Lt. Edmund Jennings ‘Ed’ Exley (Guy Pearce), an ambitious newbie with a gift for finessing police politics. Exley wants to make his Dad proud, follows a strict moral code and doesn’t care about being one of the guys. And he won’t be, given that he testifies against his fellow cops and their part in “Bloody Christmas,” a true incident of LA cops beating up Mexican prisoners.

*Officer Wendell ‘Bud’ White (Russell Crowe), a thuggish beefcake who likes to take justice into his own hands, especially when it comes to violence against women. “His blood’s always up,” Exley says of White.

Presiding over the entire force and clashing with Exley in particular is Capt. Dudley Smith (James Cromwell), arrogant but understated until his latent psychopath rears his head.

“Bloody Christmas” is a mere prelude to a detailed catalog of vice and sin, as the story deepens and stretches to accommodate layer after layer of lies, double-dealing, betrayal and cover-up. Funny what can happen when mob leader and “honest haberdasher” Mickey Cohen (Paul Guilfoyle) — a real-life criminal — is getting a time-out in jail.

Central to the tangle is the Nite Owl case, involving kidnapping, rape, robbery and murder, which of course is not what it looks like. White’s ex-partner Dick Stensland (Graham Beckel) was among the bodies found in a dumpy diner, and, in pretty short order, three African-American guys with records end up taking the fall.

Kim Basinger won the Oscar for best supporting actress.

Additionally, the three cops find out about an upscale call-girl service, run by the suave, slick and urbane Pierce Patchett (David Strathairn). Patchett’s gimmick: All the girls resemble popular actresses — or they do after a few trips to a plastic surgeon. For instance, there’s a Veronica Lake look-alike named Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger). Sure enough, such a business did apparently exist in ’50s Tinseltown, as recounted in Garson Kanin’s memoir “Hollywood.”

Bud White proves to be both smart and strong as he asks the tough questions and finds their well-guarded answers, one in the form of a rotten, rat-infested corpse who turns out to be a fellow cop. Shocker!

More storylines surface, such as the romance between Bud and good-hearted golden-girl Lynn, not to be confused with Veronica Lake. (Btw, the Lana Turner mixup scene is a hoot!) And as is the case in noir, it’s not long before Exley meets Lynn and creates a triangle of treachery. As the threads of the story unravel, and we see more darkness and deceit, deadly shoot-outs and bloody dust-ups, it’s clear that all strands lead back to a central source of evil. Hanson and Helgeland, courtesy of Ellroy, tell a tense, crisply paced, funny and chilling story nestled in a near-perfectly rendered world of sun-drenched, sleazy LA.

A hit at the Cannes Film Festival, “L.A. Confidential” also ranked on most major critics Top Ten lists for 1997. The film received Oscar noms for best movie, director, editing, art direction, cinematography, adapted screenplay, supporting actress, sound and music/original dramatic score. Composer Jerry Goldsmith also scored “Chinatown” from 1974 and 1992’s “Basic Instinct.”  “L.A. Confidential” won two: Basinger for supporting actress; Hanson and Helgeland for the screenplay.

Hanson’s film stands up beautifully and certainly holds its own among the great neo-noir movies, in the tradition of “Chinatown” and “Body Heat.” Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times sums up the appeal this way: “Its intricate plot is so nihilistic and cold around the heart, its nominal heroes so amoral, so willing to sell out anyone and everyone, that the film is as initially unnerving as it is finally irresistible.”

That said, there are several snags on the accuracy front. [Read more...]

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

‘L.A. Confidential’ quick hit

L.A. Confidential/1997/Warner Bros./138 min.

Kim Basinger won the Oscar for her portrayal of call-girl Lynn Bracken in this police corruption drama, set in vintage Hollywood. The script, co-written by director Curtis Hanson and Brian Helgeland from a James Ellroy novel, also snared the gold statuette. Co-starring with Basinger are: Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, David Strathairn and Danny DeVito.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter