Hollywood has lost the knack for making thrillers that don't rely on massive special effects or computer-generated images. And yet filmmakers in Europe and elsewhere seem to have no trouble cranking up the voltage with only their wits to guide them.
So it is with Fred Cavaye's Point Blank, the follow-up to his Anything for Her, which was made into the American film The Next Three Days. Point Blank is the cure for the common thriller -- an adrenalized chase that starts with a bang and just builds from there.
That bang is a chase that ends badly for the guy being chased, Hugo (Roschdy Zem). He lands in a hospital, where he is the patient for nurse-in-training Samuel Pierret (Gilles Lellouche). Sam is a father-to-be, whose wife, Nadia (Elena Anaya) has just been told that she needs to spend the final six weeks of her pregnancy on her back or risk a premature delivery.
One night at work, Sam sees something funny: an unidentified doctor hurrying suspiciously away from Hugo's bed. When Sam checks on Hugo, he discovers that his oxygen tube has been cut -- but Sam bags him and keeps him alive until a doctor arrives.
Sam gets home after his shift to tell his wife what a hero he was -- and instead is knocked unconscious, awakening later to a ringing cellphone he's never seen before. A voice on the phone tells him that Nadia has been abducted -- and won't be released unless Sam smuggles Hugo out of the hospital that very morning.
Easier said than done: Hugo, a known safecracker, is now under police protection, considered a person of interest in the murder of a noted Parisian businessman. Still, the panicked but resourceful Sam finds a way to not only get Hugo past his police guard but to get them both out of the hospital and on to a bus.
To tell much more would spoil Cavaye's numerous surprises. Suffice to say that Samuel and Hugo are pawns in a plot involving blackmail and police corruption. They're on their own, with targets painted on their backs -- and Samuel's wife is still perilously pregnant.
What gives Point Blank its shivery thrill is the headlong energy Cavaye brings to every scene. Jeopardy lurks around each corner and Samuel's only choice is to run as far and fast as he can, until he can pause to regroup. Even then, he must rely on his shaky alliance with Hugo, who has resources in the underworld but also has a bullet in his gut from which he's still recuperating.
Cavaye's camera darts and leaps all over Paris -- from the Metro to the dizzying heights of a housing project balcony, from the dank tunnels under a power plant to the swarming hive of a police station.
Pierret has the wounded, slightly bewildered look of a guy who is swimming far out of his depth and barely keeping his nose above water. Zem makes a nice counterpoint, as his calmer, more steady-handed odd-couple partner.
No doubt Point Blank will be bought and remade as a Hollywood movie, a vehicle for someone like, well, take your pick among current younger action stars. The point is it will take someone with a fresh eye to come up with a movie as wonderfully wired and propulsive as Cavaye's Point Blank. Why bother?