Set in Vietnam in April 1968 - three months after the tide-turning Tet Offensive and one month after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. - Point Man is the story of a U.S. Army fire...
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Set in Vietnam in April 1968 - three months after the tide-turning Tet Offensive and one month after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. - Point Man is the story of a U.S. Army fire team fractured by racial tensions, moral crises, and the crushing pressures of combat in a war nobody wants to fight. Andre "Casper" Allen, a rough-edged ideologue, finds his radical politics put him at odds with the squad's machine gunner, Silas Meeks. When their search-and-destroy mission in the Mekong Delta goes terribly wrong, both men find themselves pitted against each other and their recalcitrant platoon commander, Lieutenant Sutter. Point men die like flies in the bush, and as loyalties dissolve every step forward comes with a price.
The bar scene features a mural of a red bull and accompanying text in Vietnamese. It translates to: "Leave the fear of red to horn beasts," and pays homage to an anti-war poster from the Rhode Island School of Design. Because the film is set in 1968 and the artwork was created in 1970, the bar's mural is anachronistic. See more »
Tremendous strengths betrayed by missed opportunities
Ahh, the smell of something new!
Let's get this out of the way: Point Man is not an action film, contrary to everything from the poster to the movie trailer to the DVD packaging in the rack at Walmart. If you're expecting a Jason Statham flick you will find yourself disappointed. No, Point Man is solidly dramatic, a dialogue-driven piece with just enough adrenaline sprinkled in to keep the pages turning. It's that dialogue - and the plot - that provides the brunt of the film's appeal and memorability. Let's break it down.
I can't stress enough how shocked I am when I find stellar actors in independent films. Both leads - Christopher Long and Jacob Keohane - fit that bill marvelously. Long is seamless in his simmering, Keohane in his patented brand of unlikeable. These guys are magnetic in their standoff(s) and drive the film. One or two weakness in bit parts and the odd whiffed delivery from other actors are what keep me from a rare 10/10 on this one.
In a dialogue-driven drama you'd better go for broke on the writing, and this story delivered. Crisp, tight, and streamlined in some places and brilliantly ponderous in others, Point Man descends into the depths of the human condition with a disarming lack of pretense. It's thought-provoking without being overtly philosophical, burying titanic ethical questions inside the taut confrontations of combat. Complex but never too convoluted to follow, the plot winds to an unpredictable - if poetic - payoff in the final act.
Point Man is watchable from a cinematic standpoint, but I don't see it winning the director any awards. It's passable and competent to the point of not being distracting, at least, but doesn't add anything to the story. A lot of effort seems to have gone into selecting stunning Southeast Asian backdrops (a google search reveals it was filmed in Cambodia and Vietnam) and it stuns me that the director didn't take advantage of natural opportunities afforded by the local. Where are the long pans? The sweeping establishing shot? Why don't we get to see more of Southeast Asia? How disappointing!
Southeast Asia as a shooting location wins Point Man most of its production value. With better cinematography (see above) this could've jumped up to a six or a seven, but as it is the physical landscape provides much of this film's authenticity, probably by design. Other highlights include a squadron of army helicopters and villages.
The biggest detractor (and by extension, my main criticism of the film) is scale. The lack of sheer mass was disappointing. Leads Casper and Meeks are part of a platoon - where is the platoon? Why can't we see more than a dozen or two at the same time? Are they obscured by the jungle? When they're ambushed by a Viet Cong patrol, why can't we see more than a dozen of them? Where is the frightening intensity that comes from numbers?
The platoon stumbles across a village in the jungle. There's all of seven people in it. Why not go for scale? Why not a whole village full of villagers in the village? Where are the explosions? We get two. Why not more? Why no payoffs from the grenades? Why CG shrapnel? Why no blood? Why no immersion into the hell of war that we have come to enjoy from the cinematic experience?
Point Man's negative qualities aren't in its failures at execution, they're in its missed opportunities. By itself Point Man is a wonderful story, a riveting and thought-provoking narrative that has earned its stars a place in cinematic storytelling. Had it not missed so many golden opportunities it would have earned far more.
Overall ranking: 6.5 of 10, rounded up to a 7 for the sake of Christopher Long, who has mesmerized me to the point that I cannot offer anything less.
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