‘Point Blank’: An extraordinary crime film that rises above its genre trappings

The only thing that stopped John Boorman’s Point Blank from being a wholly European film is the presence of its American cast members. This is one of those path-breaking films that have aged well. There is a strong influence of the French New Wave here, especially with respect to the editing and camera work. Boorman did something extraordinary with an ordinary plot. Consider the opening of the film: Lee Marvin’s character Walker is an ordinary and middle-aged professional criminal who agrees to go along on a robbery orchestrated by his seemingly trusted friend and partner Mal Reese (John Vernon).

But after the robbery, Walker gets cheated out of $93,000 and now he wants it back. The only problem is Mal has put a few bullet holes in him and Walker is now almost on the verge of death in one of the cells of the famous – and now defunct – Alcatraz prison. But somehow Walker manages to get out of the prison and off the island. How did he get off without getting killed by the freezing cold waters that surround the island? Boorman doesn’t offer any clear answers. He sends Walker – now almost resembling a zombie – off to collect his money.

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It doesn’t seem like he wants revenge even though it looks like it. But a few people who cross his path do get killed and the funny thing is that it’s not always by his own hand and it’s not always intentional. Walker doesn’t look like a ghost either because everyone is able to see, hear and touch him. The entire film looks like a fever dream. But whose dream is it – Walker’s? Or his wife’s, who made the last minute decision of going with Mal. This too is never answered. And this is what I love about this film. It makes you work really hard for the answers.

Boorman puts Marvin in the stylish and retro settings of the 60s and in the company of a mysterious “mentor” named Yost and two alluring women – Angie Dickinson as Chris, the woman who helps Walker and Sharon Acker as Lynne Walker, his wife. This is a film that was tailor made for Marvin, who made a career out of playing tough guys. He fits the part perfectly. Despite sporting a stone-cold expression throughout the film, Marvin manages to gain our sympathy and our laughs on more than one occasion. I found the following conversation between Walker and a member of the shadowy Spectre-like outfit simply called “The Organization”, particularly hilarious.

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Brewster: You’re a very bad man, Walker, a very destructive man! Why do you run around doing things like this?

Walker: I want my money. I want my $93,000.

Brewster: $93,000? You threaten a financial structure like this for $93,000? No, Walker, I don’t believe you. What do you really want?

Walker: I— I really want my money.

I found it hard to suppress my laugh when I saw Marvin’s expression in this scene. Boorman set the film in L.A and depicted it in a way we have never quite seen before. Philip H.Lathrop’s frames are neat, elegant and symmetrical. Although the film based on a pulpy crime novel by Richard Stark (whose real name is Donald E.Westlake), it’s nothing like the book which has a clear-cut ending and this Walker character (called Parker in the book) went on to appear in several other novels and films too. Robert Duvall played him as “Earl Macklin” in the The Outfit, Mel Gibson as “Porter” in its remake Payback and most recently Taylor Hackford directed Jason Statham in Parker, an atrocious adaptation of one of Stark’s novels, ‘Flashfire’.

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