Warner Bros. // 1967 // 92 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // July 11th, 2005
There are two kinds of people in his up-tight world: his victims and his women. And sometimes you can't tell them apart.
John Boorman's existentialist actioner Point Blank (remade in 1999 as the Mel Gibson-helmed Payback) gets its long, long overdue release on DVD, raising the question: what the hell took so long?
There is a man who goes only by the name Walker (Lee Marvin, The Big Red One: The Reconstruction), and he's pissed. He's been left for dead by his cheating wife and best friend, Reese (John "Zero...point...zero." Vernon, Killer Klowns from Outer Space), and robbed of his share of a recent score. With the help of a woman from his past (an impossibly sexy Angie Dickinson, Dressed to Kill), Walker returns to collect on his $93,000 and to take revenge on the men who wronged him.
The Lee Marvin of John Boorman's Point Blank is possibly the biggest badass the screen has ever known, and I'm not sure I can come up with higher praise than that. Wait -- yes, I can: Point Blank is among the best films of the 1960s and is one of the finest neo-noir crime films ever made. That's better.
On the surface, the movie is about as lean and scrappy as genre films come; underneath, though, is something far richer. The film is a meditation on loss and revenge, on violence and regret -- it's all rather tragic and beautiful, yet hidden under the guise of a punch-drunk, tougher-than-tough-as-nails actioner that puts the majority of its genre brethren to shame. With its lyrical approach, fragmented chronology, and layered meanings, the influence of Boorman's movie is visible in the work of nearly every contemporary mainstream and indie director working in the genre, from Steven Soderbergh to Bryan Singer, Michael Mann to Christopher Nolan. Point Blank is the blueprint for the modern-day noir genre.
It's rare that a crime film leaves itself open to so many readings -- it goes far beyond the guns-and-money, business-as-usual plotting of the traditional genre outing. Without giving anything away (as Boorman has a tendency to do on his audio commentary), I will say that there is more -- much more -- than meets the eye in Point Blank, and that the film provides no easy answers. That's the major difference between this film and its remake, Payback; the Mel Gibson movie works, but in a skillfully mindless action-flick way. There is nothing mindless about Point Blank, a movie that might just be the first (and best) postmodern noir -- it's as much about noir as it is noir. It also features the best work of Lee Marvin (Cat Ballou be damned), whose presence is so commanding that he acts a majority of the film without dialogue (a decision that was made on-set more than once, and a smart one at that). He's a pit bull here, so fierce and focused that he becomes the spectral embodiment of revenge. The movie serves him well, too, hardly ever stepping wrong (even the one scene that feels out of place -- a visit to a jazz club -- manages to transcend its own stumble to become a surrealist, kaleidoscopic nightmare -- one more stop on Walker's looming descent to Hell) and allowing him to center abstract sequence after abstract sequence, building to a haunting conclusion that forces to reexamine exactly what we've seen.
Warner Bros. releases Point Blank in its original widescreen aspect ratio of 2.35:1, enhanced for 16x9 playback. The transfer is excellent; aside from some minor but noticeable age artifacts, the image is sharp and bright -- the film's carefully designed color palette still pops and resonates. The disc offers only the movie's original mono track as an audio option (though it's available in two languages); it manages to remain faithful while still delivering the goods on the sonic front.
A commentary track by director John Boorman and "special guest" Steven Soderbergh (sex, lies and videotape, Out of Sight) runs the length of the film, making for not only the best extra on the disc, but one of the best commentaries I've heard in a long time. Soderbergh, who's on hand really just as a fan of the film (and as someone who openly admits to stealing from it right at the outset -- his The Limey is so heavily borrowed from Point Blank he ought to consider paying royalties), is a welcome addition to any discussion -- he demonstrates tremendous technical savvy and cinematic intelligence while still managing to make his comments accessible. His greatest contribution, though, is his skill as an interviewer (as evidenced on his Catch-22 track with Mike Nichols) -- he knows just the right questions to ask, keeping the discussion varied and lively and prompting Boorman to open up on a number of subjects (including the film's remake, Payback, which is referenced once early on and hugely dismissed). Boorman is extremely articulate about his themes, his hugely influential visual and narrative style, the production's history, his leading actor -- the list goes on and on. It's a first-rate commentary track.
The only other bonus feature included (besides the movie's original trailer) is a two-part vintage featurette, ostensibly about the film's use of Alcatraz as a location but covering the film as a whole. It's fun in a time-capsule kind of way and neat to see and all, but doesn't add too much to the movie or the disc.
While not as comprehensive as some of their recent "Special Edition" releases, Warner Bros.'s disc of Point Blank does feature a solid transfer and an outstanding commentary track by Boorman and Soderbergh. Oh, and the movie's pretty brilliant, too. We could do a lot worse.
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Scales of Justice
* Golden Gavel 2005 Nominee
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (French)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 1967
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Commentary by Director John Boorman and Filmmaker Steven Soderbergh
* Vintage Featurettes: The Rock Part 1 and The Rock Part 2
* Theatrical Trailer