Point Blank (1967)

John Boorman | 1hr 27min

Point Blank could have almost been a conventional crime thriller in some alternate universe. ‘Almost’ is the key word there, because as much as this film straddles a line between high and low art, John Boorman’s manipulation of pulpy violence and a doggedly determined protagonist points towards something a little sharper and more sophisticated than the material would suggest. With great freedom granted to him in the final cut, Point Blank transcends all genre trappings, as Boorman’s confounding plot and leaps in time extracts a dizzying fever dream from the encounters, deals, and interrogations conducted by one wronged man across the city of Los Angeles.

That this man feels such an urge to correct the injustice committed against him is ridiculous in the first place, given that the money stolen from him had already been stolen from someone else. But Walker is not going to let go of $93,000 that easily, especially since the transgressor is a close friend and associate, Reese, who has additionally left him for dead. Theories that everything after his shooting plays out as a hallucination in his dying mind aren’t totally unfounded, though it is worth noting that even in this first scene we are already disorientated by the cutting between three parallel timelines – his recruitment, the operation, and his half-conscious body lying on the floor of a jail cell, pondering the sequence of events leading to this moment. And then, quietly he wonders to himself…

“Did it happen? A dream… a dream.”

Gorgeous avant-garde framing through mirrors.

Answers don’t come easily here, especially given how obfuscated Walker’s character motivations are. The fuss that he is making over such an inconsequential amount of money in his mission for vengeance doesn’t go unnoted by surrounding characters. “Do you mean to say you’d bring down this immense organisation for a paltry $93,000?” remarks one. “Somebody’s gotta pay,” retorts Walker, though Lee Marvin delivers it as less of a threat and more a weak assertion of justice. In this Californian underbelly, he may have once been an intelligent, fearsome figure, and yet now as he chases up loose ends in an ever-unravelling mystery, he simply looks like an old, lost man, falling back on the only thing he has left – his sheer power of will. Marvin was only 43 years old when he shot this film, but in this role he looks as if he could be anywhere upwards of 50, and so even as he marches forward with steadfast conviction in his quest, there is a weariness contained in his performance, and a frustration by the lack of sense in this unsettling urban landscape.

Superb use of architecture all throughout Point Blank, trapping and isolating Walker in a world of hard lines and angles.

But more than just seeming slightly unnerving, these Californian cities which he traverses are also truly formidable in their magnificent structures, overwhelming and isolating Walker with their off-kilter angles and imposing scale. While a narrative comparison might be able to be drawn to Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo in its surreal, wandering descent, visually Point Blank is closer to a Michelangelo Antonioni film in Boorman’s tremendous use of architecture to divide and obstruct characters in an environment of stone, metal, and glass, rigid in its unified patterns.

Stu Gardner as a demented performer framed in a wide, gaping mouth. Even as Walker beats up two other men, he never stops singing.
Red lighting drips down Walker’s face like blood.

The manner in which these surroundings consume their inhabitants is literalised in one particularly demented scene in a night club, in which an unhinged performer who ad libs over a repetitive guitar riff is introduced to us in the centre of a large, gaping mouth projected upon a screen. In the same scene, right after a violent brawl that sees Walker come out on top, his face is drenched in a red neon light, dripping down his face like bright, bloody rain.

And then as if to sink us even deeper into the psychological chaos of Walker’s mission, Boorman leads us through flashbacks which unfold in dreamy montages and slow-motion. The images just float on by as wistful voiceovers play out over the top, almost like if Terrence Malick were to take a dark turn into experimental neo-noir. The narrative jumps around in non-linear patterns, as a kiss shared between Walker and his sister-in-law, Chris, on the floor of her apartment match cuts to her bed, where they continue to embrace. And quite peculiarly, the confused expression on Walker’s face seems to indicate a similar disorientation to our own, as if a chunk of time between both instances has completely disappeared.

Match cuts forwards and backwards through time, constantly throwing us off.

Indeed, Walker is barely a free agent in this constantly shifting world, and he knows it. As Point Blank reaches its denouement, he chases down a disembodied voice speaking over an intercom system, which may as well be his own self-critical inner monologue even if it sounds like Chris’.

“You’re played out. It’s over. You’re finished. What would you do with the money if you got it? It wasn’t yours in the first place. Why don’t you just lay down and die?”

In the face of such overwhelming odds and with such little justification for his own conviction, what else is there to do? Such a quiet relinquishing of power is the only ending that makes sense for a man so desperate to exert his own will over a world that refuses to bow down. And besides, considering the violent deaths ridden all throughout Point Blank, perhaps Walker’s sad, uneventful retreat into the shadows is the best he could have ever really hoped for.

Point Blank is currently available to stream on The Criterion Channel, and available to rent or buy on iTunes, YouTube, and Google Play.

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