Artisan // 2001 // 107 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // October 24th, 2002
An explosive, seductive suspense thriller.
John Hawkins is ex-military, living a broken life in the Pacific Northwest and carrying the burden of personal pain and tragedy every day. He works for Bear at a seaside restaurant when he's not diving into another fifth of bourbon. Then one day he meets Natalie, another lost soul, living with an abusive criminal husband. John is smitten and it's not long before the two grow very close. But Natalie's other life is about to throw them together into a tale of greed, gangsters and gunplay. Seems Gus, the sordid spouse, is on the trail of over $3 million in cash from a botched mob deal, and Malcolm the crime boss is not happy about losing it. But once it's found, more than one person is apparently interested in a little instant wealth and making off with the stolen cash. And she's willing to frame someone she just met for robbery and murder to do it.
To give away any more of the plot to Black Point would be to undermine the film's wonderful job of twisting conventions. We have seen this story told a thousand times by a bevy of screenwriters and filmmakers. It's the classic noir double cross: damsel in distress, villainous knave holding dominion over her, flawed hero to the rescue. Except Black Point formulates all those types into a clever, fresh variation on this thriller theme. The lynchpin to any good film is characterization -- the audience needs to understand that these are real, three-dimensional people interacting and reacting. Once established, they will follow the film anywhere, and even forgive some minor over plotting. Such is the case here. The script takes its deliberate, measured time in peeling back layer after complicating layer of these characters' lives. Eventually, as all the narrative curves and convolutions begin to unfold (and occasionally overstay their welcome), we genuinely care what happens, who is involved, and just what side everyone was playing. But a movie this gradual in revealing its secrets needs compelling actors to guide the more A.D.D. oriented members of the modern audience through the story. And there is an excellent cast involved with Black Point. Since the early days of his career, David Caruso is a gifted, talented artist locked in a battle between bad decisions, weak scripts, and his own self-importance. It's nice to see him rehabilitating his image in this small budget film, since his performance as John is superb. In addition to the facets presented in the script, Caruso adds additional depth with a look, or a line reading to turn Hawkins into a truly tragic human being. Susan Haskell, as Natalie, is also very good, playing someone both conniving and conflicted. And writer/performer Thomas Ian Griffith excels at what is, currently, a lost art in the contemporary suspense film: creating a believable, truly evil, multi-dimensional villain.
But acting and writing aside, a film like Black Point could still fail if it wasn't being handled by a talented director, one who understands the nuances of not only action, but of acting and suspense. Credit goes to David Mackay for avoiding some of the standard B-movie clichés inherent in this type of tale and, instead, creating a truly fresh and engaging film. There are no camera tricks here, no fancy angles or slow motion set pieces. Mackay's faith in his cast and his location results in a film that is powerful in its simple compositions and thrilling in its focus on people, not fireworks. And the Northwest is presented in all its absolute natural beauty. Gloomy, green and wooden, it mirrors the tone and story being told in an unexpected but truly gorgeous fashion. It's just too bad that Artisan has attempted to undermine the whole project by releasing this movie in an occasionally compressed, full screen farce. Scenes of characters interacting beneath the backdrop of the majestic mountains or stormy seashores are diminished by the boneheaded, badly cropped transfer. And the Dolby Digital soundtrack is not utilized. It just sits there, blaring from the speakers without any DVD improvement or enhanced performance. Still, neither of these mastering issues undermines the movie's power. Black Point is an engrossing, spellbinding exercise in suspense that finds huge pleasures and tension in the tiniest, most finely tuned moments. Thanks to CSI: Miami, David Caruso's career is seeing a major revival. Black Point is one of the better steps he took on the way back to stardom. This is a good little lost gem of a film.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Rated R