I watched John Boorman’s 1967 classic Point Blank for the first time this week, primarily because it was one of the two hundred or so films on this list that I’ve never seen. Working my way through the list I’ve made some happy discoveries and met with some disappointments. Point Blank was more of a disappointment than a happy discovery. I don’t know much about the foundation on which this film’s reputation as a classic rests. (Had I more time, I might have listened to the audio commentary by Boorman in conversation with Steven Soderbergh, who I assume is a fan of the film.)
Is it simply that Point Blank is one of those movies that represents a turning point in the history of its genre? It’s certainly lean, muscular, and tough in a way that many other action thrillers weren’t in the mid-’60s. The Hollywood studios were struggling to adapt to a more modern sensibility and trying to keep up with (read: imitate/colonize) the stylishness of European new wave cinema. Meanwhile, young turks like Altman, Scorsese, Coppola and De Palma were beginning to make their mark on the fringes of the mainstream, cutting their teeth on exploitation fare. Enter John Boorman, a relatively inexperienced English filmmaker brought in to direct a Lee Marvin vehicle for MGM about a criminal who sets out to get revenge on the guys from his crew who, after a successful heist, made off with his share of the loot (as well as his girlfriend).
Boorman is perhaps best described as a journeyman filmmaker who does not have a distinctive vision so much as an ability to move in and out of various styles and genres. (Consider five titles from his filmography: Deliverance, The General, Hope and Glory, Excaliber, The Exorcist II: The Heretic.) As directed by Boorman, Point Blank looks a lot like a conventional studio picture tricked out with some flashy asynchronous editing techniques in the style of Antonioni—who, incidentally, would make Zabriskie Point for MGM just a few years later. Point Blank is perhaps less successful as a film in its own right than as an historical artifact from a Hollywood in transition.