Point Blank (1967)

Directed by John Boorman; Written by Alexander Jacobs, David Newhouse and Rafe Newhouse

You know those half-dreams that play in your mind’s eye before you finally drift off? Those nebular imaginings far removed from hard, inflexible reality, but still tethered slightly to your conscious mind?

As lame adults, we use this dreamspace to replay incidents from the day that’s been, reargue arguments we had, or if the mood strikes, indulge a sexual fantasy. As kids, however, we make the most of it, imagine ourselves as superheroes who fight bad guys and save the world with overpowering ability. We concoct stories with no rhyme or rhythm, just ego-driven tales of unfettered power where we only have to imagine things to be so, and so they are. 

Point Blank is a story woven from that dreamy cloth. A criminal, double-crossed, recovers from near-death and sets out on a revenge tour, stopping not only at the person who almost killed him, but goes on to hunt down the entire infrastructure that coerced them both into that way of life, taking on a faceless, corporate evil whose nefarious dealings are so woven into our society that its being is almost abstract and consequently impossible to extract, solidify and ultimately undo. 

Lee Marvin stars as Walker, the wronged man in question, and despite delivering on his baked-in aura of no-nonsense masculinity, the real star of Point Blank is the storytelling. Marvin, however great, is still a passenger here on a flying carpet, and so are we. This film really doesn’t move like a film like this is expected to. 

Because it is ostensibly a late noir, a hard-boiled film about tough people doing seedy things, and the touchpoints are there: The city, in this case Los Angeles, as a character of its own, cynical nihilism, and voice-overs guiding us along, but here, the flat drawl that usually accompanies the pictures to give some exposition and reveal a character’s reactions are replaced with broken sentences, impulses and stray thoughts that caress the story rather than pin it down. 

It’s impressionistic almost, and it’s coupled with Henry Berman’s modernistic editing, which cuts from scene to scene, back to a former scene, and forward again, bringing to life Walker’s mind, and its stream of consciousness delirium, as his thoughts run amok along the path of least resistance. It’s both clever and effective, reminding us how trauma drives a person, and how time falls flat in someone’s wounded headspace. Like Faulkner said, the past is never dead, it’s not even past. 

It makes Point Blank a rush, this ruthless fluidity of its storytelling that matches Walker’s crusade, which he carries out like a force of nature, bulldozing his way through this well-groomed underworld of swank offices and well-tailored suits. What he sets his mind to, he achieves, with iron-fisted expedience, a man’s revenge fantasy realized. 

The cold razor that draws this storyline of blood moves within this heady power, but Point Blank is far from a brutal exercise in conquest similar to the John Wick-films. Among the wreckage are Walker’s memories of what was, treated with real humanity so that they shine like childhood recollections, free of any current burden. Credit where it’s due to Marvin, who sells this happier man just as well as the disillusioned cruise missile he later becomes. 

Deceptively simple, and a potent surprise, Point Blank mixes the hard trappings of its chosen genre with the soft allure of the inner world, resulting in something remarkable that anyone interested in anti-establishment sentiment, suave violence, and the sensibility in emotional trauma would do well to have a look at. 

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