It is at this point in the film, when Chris played by the incomparable Angie Dickinson, utters this line, when it hit me. Walker (Lee Marvin) could very well have died a time long ago in a prison cell in Alcatraz, and everything I have been watching is just the last dream of a dying man.
In Point Blank, a New Wave Neo-Nior, directed by John Boorman, Walker lies on the floor of an Alcatraz prison cell, with a bullet in his gut. Having just been betrayed by his best friend and wife, for his portion of some stolen cash, he closes his eyes as the pain sets in.
As the opening credits roll, we see Walker standing in the jail, hand covering his side wound. A voice over simply says “A dream”. Over the rest of the credits we see the wounded Walker make his way to the bay shore, not so much moving as he is transporting himself from the island. As he is about to jump in bay, we hear a tour guide’s voice over says that due to the water currents and temperature Alcatraz is virtually escape proof.
Cut to an older Walker riding a ferry over Alcatraz. I should have seen it from the very beginning, but the imagery and suspense had already captivated me. Instead of this scene just setting up Walker as this mythic figure of a man, who through will alone was able to drag himself from the cusp of death, in order to exact his revenge, it shows Walker’s transformation.
Walker the man had died in that prison cell and has been replaced by Walker the unstoppable force, a vessel of vengeance, no longer man, now a relentless haunting shadow.
(You can watch the full credits here)
The rest of Point Blank plays like a standard noir revenge flick marinated in a dream like haze. Walker must fight his way through many different players in the mob organization called “the organization” to find his money, but each step he takes towards his goal gets him further away from his cashing out.
The film uses new wave techniques like a fractured narrative structure, unorthodox uses of sound, and disorientating editing to create this blur between what is real and what is dream.
Like this scene of Walker sneaking up on his ex-wife
Throughout the film there are further allusions to the fact that Walker may be dreaming like a one way conversation with his ex-wife, the fact that he doesn’t kill one person in the film yet everyone somehow dies, and they way he is framed in scenes by prison bar shadows.
All Walker wants is the $93,000 that was stolen from him, and he will continue to rampage as man or spirit until he gets it.
Ghost or human aside what really struck me about Point Blank is the isolation of Walker. A man who spent his life isolating himself from others and when he does try to allow people into his life, it winds up killing him.
Even if Walker is alive in the film, he is still a ghost. He is constantly shot in widescreen, separated from people by buildings, structures, or distance. He is a man who shows no need for emotion or intimacy. The cool understated performance by Lee Marvin only furthers this idea of Walker’s isolation. Is he isolated because he has been gun downed by intimacy or is he isolated because he is no longer among the living?
Like I mentioned the film makes great use of music and sound.
In this scene Walter beats up a few thugs while diegetic jazz music plays. (Also note that punch in the nuts, why? because it is awesome).
This is the second movie I have seen with Angie Dickinson and she is incredible. I love the interaction between her and Lee Marvin in this scene. Take note of the uses of shadows and the dialogue over the intercom.
Regardless of whether or not Walker is alive, Point Blank is an incredible film. It is captivating in every sense of the word. From the directing, to the filming techniques, to the performances, everything about this film is great. If you have never seen a Lee Marvin or Angie Dickinson film this would be the perfect one to start with. Masterfully directed by John Boorman, Point Blank will have you talking long after the film is finished.
Point Blank is an incredibly directed film that uses disorientingly beautiful, New-Wave filming techniques to create a captivating and dreamy revenge Neo-noir.
“You can escape purgatory, but you can’t escape Hell.” - Priest in My Left Foot
This has been day 18 of 30 VHS In 30 DAYS. My journey to the center of VHS Hell. Special thanks to I Luv Video in Austin, The World’s Largest Video Store, for being my spiritual and literal guide through VHS purgatory.