Point Blank (1967): The Only Neo-Noir that Matters

I’ve been a consumer of countless crime fiction novels, films, and television for most of my life now—from eras ranging from Raymond Chandler to Elmore Leonard to Dennis Lehane—yet still I find myself pausing to ask this bleeding question: what the hell does neo-noir ever mean?

Most commonly, people refer to neo-noir as anything that follows the template of the classical film noir era, which occurred in the 1940s and '50s. For that reason, films like Chinatown and L.A. Confidential often get labeled as neo-noir, but I find it difficult not to see this as a misnomer. Those films carry an authenticity that makes me feel that they were really part of the classical era.

Other people take the word more literally and feel it applies to noir-esque films with science-fiction elements in them, such as Blade Runner. But, more often than not, the noir themes in these films tend to be overshadowed by the spectacle.

Even some filmmakers seem to be less than privy to the term (don’t count on the Coen Brothers or Quentin Tarantino ever describing their films as neo-noir). And when I talk about film in my favorite genre of cinema, you best believe I drop the “neo” in most cases. That said, there are still a handful of films I feel are best described by the aforementioned term. For that reason, I believe John Boorman’s 1967 film Point Blank ranks as the best neo-nor ever made.

An adaptation of The Hunter—the 1st Parker novel from Donald E. Westlake (under the pen name Richard Stark), which currently has been adapted for film three times and once as a graphic novel—the film stars veteran tough-guy actor Lee Marvin as a career criminal named Walker. After performing a heist on Alcatraz with his partner Mal (John Vernon in his first big role), Walker is betrayed when Mal shoots him, leaves him for dead, and then exits with his money and wife (Sharon Acker). Somehow, Walker survives the shooting, and the rest of the film details Walker’s revenge in a rather surreal fashion.

Sure, it’s a fairly re-hashed storyline (which is probably why the other film adaptations of The Hunter aren’t so well-remembered), but Point Blank finds its ethos in the execution. While British filmmaker John Boorman has had a most eclectic filmography (this is the guy that directed Zardoz right after Deliverance), Point Blank remains his most satisfying and all-encompassing film overall.

Being one of the first Hollywood films to incorporate techniques from the French New Wave movement, Boorman brought a layer of complexity and vision to his crime film that made it transcend its base in genre. It featured a non-linear plot, calculated use of mise-en-scène, and a sense for lighting and color that often verged on psychedelic (a fight sequence set in a night club remains one of the trippiest action scenes I can think of). Sure, it had testosterone, but its subdued tone gave it a feeling that was closer to Roberto Rossellini than Sam Peckinpah.

In fact, the film proved so dreamy that, over the years, theories have arisen questioning how much of it is actually real for protagonist Walker. Perhaps the most popular theory about the film is the belief that Walker really did die at the film’s opening and the rest of the movie is a death fantasy for the character. People stand by this theory since the film has a lot of flashback sequences, an abstract path, and an ending that’s particularly ambiguous. We never even see how Walker recovers from his bullet wounds, and the film even ends with a shot of the Island of Alcatraz, which some people have inferred means that the character never left there in the first place.

Boorman, however, has shrugged at these theories, saying that “what you see is what you get” with Point Blank. Regardless of this dismissal, others have continued to have philosophical interpretations of the film, including filmmaker Steven Soderbergh (who regularly calls the film a great influence for him), who sees it as an examination on memory. The most Boorman has said about the movie’s subtext, however, is that Point Blank is inspired by the monstrosities that Lee Marvin experienced in World War II and his subsequent gestation to regain his humanity afterwards.

In today’s cinematic climate, the one crime film that bears a similar aesthetic resonance to Point Blank (and passes my neo-noir exam) is Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive. Like Boorman did five decades earlier, Refn applied European arthouse stylings to a script written for what was intended to be a generic thriller—and the results certainly appealed to a wide range of critics.

What keeps Drive from being as timeless as its predecessor, however, is that it just doesn’t have the existential mantra that Point Blank so silently implants. By comparison, Refn is an exploiter and Boorman a philosopher, which is why Point Blank is one of the most unheralded classics of the 60s, even 49 years after its release.

See also: Hard Rain Falling by Don Carpenter: A Lost American Classic


Peter Foy is an avid reader and movie buff, constantly in need to engage his already massive pop-culture lexicon.


  1. Scott Adlerberg

    Good piece, Peter. Enjoyed it.

  2. helen martin

    What a the other films and the graphic novel based on The Hunter? Drive is perfection.

  3. Seymour Brighton

    Right off the bat: you don’t know what “stigma” means.

    My god… you are just a barbarian with words.

    Just reckless.

    • Peter Foy

      Where do I use the word “Stigma” in this piece?

  4. Why is pineapple good for you sexually

    What’s up, I check your blog daily. Your story-telling style is awesome, keep it

  5. coffret beaute femme enceinte

    I was suggested this blog by my cousin. I’m not sure whether this post is written by
    him as nobody else know such detailed about my trouble. You’re amazing!

  6. armband mod kvalme

    I do not even know how I ended up right here, however I thought this submit was good.
    I do not know who you might be however certainly
    you are going to a well-known blogger should you are not already.

  7. Rocker tatoveringer betydning

    Tremendous things here. I’m very satisfied to look your article.
    Thanks a lot and I am taking a look ahead to contact
    you. Will you kindly drop me a mail?

  8. creme til ar

    If you are going for most excellent contents like I do, simply pay a quick visit this website daily because
    it offers feature contents, thanks

  9. socolor beauty

    This is very interesting, You’re a very skilled blogger. I have joined your rss feed and look forward to seeking more of
    your magnificent post. Also, I have shared your site in my social networks!

  10. about skin care

    Thanks in support of sharing such a nice idea, article
    is good, thats why i have read it fully

  11. vad ska jag baka

    You’ve made some really good points there. I checked on the internet for additional information about the issue
    and found most individuals will go along with your views on this website.

  12. lait corps body lotion sephora

    Hey! I’m at work browsing your blog from my new apple
    iphone! Just wanted to say I love reading through your blog and
    look forward to all your posts! Keep up the excellent work!

  13. crippledating com

    Link exchange is nothing else except it is simply placing the other person’s website link on your page at appropriate place and other
    person will also do same in favor of you.

  14. flackar pa huden

    Your means of describing all in this paragraph is actually good, every
    one be capable of effortlessly know it, Thanks a lot.

  15. mycket protein

    Hello Dear, are you truly visiting this site daily, if so afterward you will absolutely take
    nice knowledge.

  16. squishy slime baff

    Everything is very open with a clear clarification of the issues.
    It was truly informative. Your website is very useful.
    Many thanks for sharing!

  17. limma betong mot betong

    Great website. Plenty of helpful info here. I’m sending it to a few pals ans also sharing
    in delicious. And naturally, thank you on your effort!

  18. hur bli av med förkylning snabbt

    Good answer back in return of this matter with genuine arguments and explaining all about that.

  19. bruna prickar på kroppen

    I savor, cause I found exactly what I used to be taking a look for.
    You’ve ended my 4 day long hunt! God Bless you man. Have a nice day.

  20. cellulitis operatief verwijderen

    What i don’t realize is in fact how you are no longer actually a lot more smartly-liked than you may be right now.
    You’re very intelligent. You already know therefore considerably with regards to this topic, produced me in my view consider
    it from so many varied angles. Its like women and men aren’t
    involved except it is something to do with
    Lady gaga! Your personal stuffs nice. All the time deal with it up!

  21. ica kvantum handla online

    Hey very interesting blog!

  22. kollagen kolit behandling

    I’m truly enjoying the design and layout of your website.
    It’s a very easy on the eyes which makes it much more
    enjoyable for me to come here and visit more often. Did you hire out a developer to create your theme?
    Fantastic work!

  23. hvide negle sygdom

    Very energetic article, I loved that bit. Will there be a part 2?

  24. telia support privat

    Link exchange is nothing else except it is simply placing the other person’s weblog link on your page at suitable place and other person will also do
    similar in support of you.

  25. jysk norrtalje oppettider

    Undeniably believe that which you said. Your favorite
    justification seemed to be on the web the simplest thing to be aware of.
    I say to you, I certainly get annoyed while people think about worries that they plainly do not
    know about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top and also defined
    out the whole thing without having side-effects , people can take a signal.
    Will likely be back to get more. Thanks

  26. väsby läkargrupp drop in

    Link exchange is nothing else except it is simply placing the other person’s webpage link
    on your page at appropriate place and other person will also do
    similar in support of you.

  27. lagenhet malmo kopa

    Incredible points. Sound arguments. Keep up the good spirit.

  28. frödinge kladdkaka innehållsförteckning

    Hi everyone, it’s my first pay a quick visit at this web site, and article is genuinely fruitful in support of me, keep up posting these articles or reviews.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.