Point Blank, the criminally underrated film from director John Boorman (perhaps most famous for his 1972 film Deliverance) has finally been given a re-release. The plot – ostensibly difficult to follow at first – is actually rather simple. Walker (played by Lee Marvin) is a haunted man, bent on retrieving what is ‘rightfully’ his. He was cheated out of his share in a robbery by his partner Mal Rees (John Vernon) and now, back from the dead and having escaped from Alcatraz, he is determined to finally get his share of the money.
The story is cold, cruel, horribly efficient. Mal was actually robbing the money to pay off his boss in ‘The Organisation’. That is the only name given to the shady company that Walker has to infiltrate to get his money back. He has made a deal with the mysterious ‘Yost’ (Keenan Wynn) – in return for giving Rees to Walker, Walker will help Yost get ‘The Organisation’. To add insult to injury, Rees has made away with Walker’s wife, who betrayed him for Rees and, along with him, left him for dead in a cell at Alcatraz.
This was the first film ever to gain admission into Alcatraz to shoot on location, about three years after its closure. It is seen as a mass of intimidating concrete on glass, housed in by gigantic metal fences, with rings of barbed wire glinting threateningly atop them. Indeed, the whole film is composed of these bare, sparse structures – concrete, glass, empty and barren spaces, coiling highways and, on the surface, coolly luxuriant penthouses and summerhouses. However, beneath the artificial veneer lies something as lifeless and decaying as the world outside them. It is in this world that Walker finds himself.
Walker is a very mysterious figure, either a lot simpler or far more complex than we think. There is a brilliant scene between Walker and Brewster – another guy working for The Organisation – where Brewster, incredulous at the supposition that Walker would take on a financial structure like that for just $93000, asks Walker what he really wants. Walker, equally as surprised, simply answers: ‘I – I really want my money.’
We impulsively search for some sign of emotion in him, but perhaps that is long gone. There is a brief flashback to when Walker first meets his wife, slightly drunk on a dock, and there is no sound, but just the hint of a smile and an attraction in that lost moment, deprived of sound, as the two young characters drift round each other, that there is some emotion deep down. Then it is gone, and his wife drifts towards Mal in the following flashback; he is inexpressive as ever. Does her betrayal come as a surprise? Does he care?
Lee Marvin gives an impressively haunted, opaque performance as Walker. Long before the Driver, there was this man – a man with no first name, a personality seemingly in limbo, intent upon only one goal and with nothing else in mind. The film is impressively stylized and Boorman plays with colour, space, lighting, chronology and sequence very successfully. From a technical point of view, there are moments in ‘Point Blank’ which are truly dazzling. We must count ourselves lucky that the film executives, after seeing the final cut of the movie and mumbling about re-shoots, didn’t get their way. This is a rather overlooked gem of the 60s, underrated then and only recently treated with the reverence it deserves. A brilliantly edited and always compelling thriller, with a heart as hard as stone. Not to be missed.
Review by LiveWire Film Critic, James Martin (June ’13)