Summer. Action. Five Stars. In a minefield of both good and bad summer movie spectacles, one film has finally risen to the top as THE flick to see for 2011. It’s not the impressive "Fast Five," not the thrilling "Thor," not the captivating "Captain America." It’s actually a story of an average man pushed to his limits to save the woman he loves. Simple, but throw in some legendary chases, complex characters and shocking twists and turns that would confound even M. Night Shyamalan and you’ve got the must-see French import "Point Blank." Directed by action master Fred Cavaye, who previously helmed the affecting "Anything For Her" (remade into the so-so American flick "The Next Three Days"), "Point Blank" restores the glory of action flicks of old, but thankfully without sacrificing quality. We’re celebrating the arrival of the film in theaters July 29 from the good folks at Magnolia Pictures starting with my five-star review (it’s well earned!) and following it with an exclusive one-on-one chat with French filmmaker Fred Cavaye who talks influences, creative casting and what’s next on his very capable plate. So popcorn and drink at the ready – the summer’s best ride has arrived.
Remember those early action flicks that really stood out? The ones that dared to mix stellar gunplay with cool casting and a pinch of unpredictability to provide a cinema experience that lingered? Those complex villain and human hero infused spectacles that rose above the mediocre B-movie fray to proclaim that action could still be an A-list affair? Add one more to the short list cinefiles – "Point Blank."
Samuel Pierret is an everyday, hard-working man with a good job as a nurse, a loving wife Nadia and a new baby on the way. But his world gets turned upside down when Nadia is kidnapped and the demands are direct – help free career criminal Hugo Sartet from custody at the hospital where Samuel works.
While the initial premise may seem familiar don't be fooled, as there is a rich tapestry of twists and turns that I’m not going to reveal by describing any more story details. A good action yarn knows when to keep it fast, slow and delicately complex and "Point Blank" is no different. As the master-craftsman helming this true five-star summer action outing ("Fast Five" and "Thor" be damned – this one sets the bar!), director Fred Cavaye blends fast paced chases (the subway scene is the best pursuit I’ve seen in years!), multi-faceted characters (good and bad are irrelevant here!) and one mysterious overall tone (who’s behind what?) to stage a picture that plays like William Friedkin meets Steven Soderbergh all under the umbrella of Alfred Hitchcock. Plus his cast is equally as riveting, from leading man Gilles Lellouche as an average man thrust into circumstances way over his head to Roschdy Zem’s cunning bad guy with surprising depth, nobody in this eclectic gang is wasted. (The sullen face of Gerard Lanvin’s Commandant Werner is forever engrained in my brain!)
"Point Blank" is such a great accomplishment that it reminded me of the first time I saw groundbreaking action flicks like "Lethal Weapon," "Die Hard," "Robocop," and "Predator," all in the dark recesses of the local theater. Violent films that had all the necessary themes and devices, but also included that something special that forever etched them in the mind as flicks that brought movie magic to the neighborhood cinema – the five-star "Point Blank" encompasses all the reasons we go out to see a movie.
And now for some Q&A insight from the man himself, here’s…
DIRECTOR FRED CAVAYE!
The movie walks a fine line between almost Hitchcock suspense and Kathryn Bigelow style action visuals, so how would you define "Point Blank?"
Fred Cavaye: Actually you’re very correct – it is a mixture of both styles. Some of my inspiration comes from classic films like the Hitchcock films, also more classic French thrillers. But at the same time I also have seen a lot of modern films, particularly Kathryn Bigelow’s films and also the Jason Bourne films and so really my style is a mixture of this. What I tried to do is I tried to take real characters, especially people of very few words in a Hitchcock way, but at the same time to shoot them with the same kind of visuals and same kind of speed that might be done in a more modern action film.
The kinetic pacing in the film reminds me of early William Friedkin like "The French Connection" and "To Live And Die In L.A." – what were some of your influences in terms of tone and pace?
FC: Of course, definitely "The French Connection" was one of those films and you have the scene in the metro in "The French Connection" that’s like the subway scene and there’s also the French actor Marcel Bozzuffi who plays in "The French Connection" in that subway scene and that was definitely an influence. But I think there’s all sorts of other influences for example there’s a (Jean-Paul) Belmondo film which is called "Peur sur la ville" (aka "Fear Over the City") by Henri Verneuil and this was also another film from the 1970’s that influenced me – both classic and modern influence me.
There are some incredible twists and turns within the basic story frame - was it important to you to keep folks guessing?
FC: My main point in making the film was that it be entertaining for the viewer and if you can double the spectators fear you’re also doubling the enjoyment. Part of it is you create this level of fear in them, part of it is with all the twists they don't know what is going to happen, so that makes everyone more involved in the film.
In terms of the action, what would you say was the most difficult sequence to stage and shoot in the film?
FC: All of the scenes were really difficult, but the problem in that respect with the difficulty is we were shooting in natural locations and we had very little time in which to shoot because they are natural locations – we’re not in a studio. And so sometimes this was a very difficult thing to manage and required a great deal of logistics and a great deal of pre-planning. One of the things that’s interesting is that the poster for the film in French is "Point Blank" and underneath it says, ‘He has three hours to save his wife!’ and most of the time we only three hours to shoot in the location we were shooting in, so we really identified with him!
Gilles Lellouche plays a fantastic everyman pushed to risk everything to get his wife back – can you talk about casting him and how important it was to make him relatable to the audience?
FC: Gilles is a wonderful actor and he’s the ideal actor to play an ordinary man. But he’s an ordinary man in cinema because he also has the physique and the personal charisma to be able to pull it off. Before in France there used to be a lot of actors like him who were able to play this cinematic everyman, but there aren’t as many now. He also has the ability to get the empathy from the audience and it's not something that every actor has. It was actually a big risk to have him in this role because this was his first starring role. He had never had the lead in any film before and the producers were a little worried because he didn't have a proven track record. But the fact that he was so good in the film, he’s now only being offered starring roles.
I also loved the complex yet thoughtful bad guy character of Hugo Sartet played by Roschdy Zem. Was it a conscious decision to make him a more quiet character?
FC: Actually the character of Hugo is based on a similar type of gangster that was played by Alain Delon in the "Le Samourai" ("The Samurai") by (Jean-Pierre) Melville and there again you have someone who speaks very little and really has to get across what he’s feeling by his eyes – visuals rather than dialogue. I think it’s always more impressive when you have to look at an actor to try to guess what they’re thinking and I found that Roschdy was very, very good at this. He has a real ability through his eyes to convey what he’s thinking, but he’s also like a sphinx, which adds to that whole allure that he has. For me when I think about it, to convey emotion you don’t need dialogue - dialogue is literature and image is cinema. Also his last name, which is Sartet, is the same name as another gangster that Alain Delon played in the film "Le clan des siciliens" ("The Sicilian Clan") – so it’s kind of a tribute to him.
I was also engrossed and haunted by the silent cool and stern face of Gerard Lanvin – how did you come to cast him?
FC: Actually for me it was tremendous luck to cast him in this film because in France he’s a really big star and generally really big stars don’t play small roles. In addition to which, in his entire career he had never played a bad guy – he’s played police but never been a bad guy. So this was something totally different for him and in some way it was kind of ideal casting to have him. Also he likes Gilles and Roschdy very much and in a way it’s almost like he views the two of them as his successors, like the next generation of actors and I think he really wanted to work with them. I was really very lucky – it was the equivalent of a first time director in the US getting to work with Robert De Niro. Gerard Levin is the Robert De Niro of France.
So what can we look forward to from you next?
FC: Actually I’m working on several screenplays right now, but the one that’s the furthest along and will probably be the next thing to be shot is once again a thriller. But it’s not a thriller exactly like the other two. There’s no ordinary man rushing to try to rescue his wife – I’m taking a bit of a break from that right now! This one will be set in much more of a police environment and it’s about two policemen, a younger one and an older one, who have committed some very bad acts and will have to fight to redeem themselves. It will certainly be an action film, but at the same time it will have some character exploration as well.