Of the multitude of actors who rose to prominence in the 1980s, it can be said with good confidence that none reached greater heights than Sean Penn.
From the start, career performance in Fast times at Ridgemont High and Faucetsto award-winning shoots in films as impactful as The Falcon and the Snowman and Victims of warPenn has risen in the minds of most as a comedian on par with Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro.
And while the subject matter of the movies he’s appeared in has been quite varied, Penn isn’t usually thought of when considering car-centric movies. There was, however, one film, quite early in his career, which, while not an automotive film per se, certainly contained a host of stunning examples of classic Detroit muscle.
In this edition of Rob’s car movie reviewlet’s take a look at this photo, 1986 Point Blank.
Point Blank was a neo-noir crime thriller produced by Hemdale Films and Cinema ’85, and originally released theatrically in the United States by Orion Pictures.
Based on the true story of a notorious 1970s Pennsylvania heist team known as the Johnston Gang, led by a fearsome crime figure, Bruce Johnston Sr. The story was adapted into screenplay by Elliott Lewitt and Nicholas Kazan. At the helm of the picture was music video director James Foley, who would later receive major acclaim for directing the 1992 noir crime classic, Glengarry Glen Ross and the 1996 thriller thriller, To fear.
Point Blank featured a cast that included real acting heavyweights as well as rising stars of the future. Sean Penn starred as the lead, Brad Whitewood Jr., opposite Christopher Walken as his father, Brad Whitewood Sr.
Rounding out the cast are Mary Stuart Masterson as Terry, Sean’s real-life brother Christopher Penn as Tommy Whitewood, and David Strathaim, Candy Clark, Kiefer Sutherland and Crispin Glover in supporting roles.
The plot concerns Brad Jr., a rebellious and unemployed young man who lives with his grandmother, his mother, his younger brother Tommy and his mother’s violent boyfriend in a situation close to poverty and misery. After a particularly nasty run-in with his mother’s boyfriend, Brad Jr. seeks out his estranged father, Brad Sr., a career criminal, and moves in with him, his girlfriend, and a ragtag group of con artists that includes the criminal of Brad Sr. gang.
Junior and Senior soon bond, and the latter begins to teach his son the tools and methods of his trade: burglary. Brad Jr. eagerly absorbs what he is taught and soon joins his father’s team on the theft of some farm tractors, as well as a residential burglary. Brad Jr. revels in the vocation and the money it brings him, which he intends to save to one day move in with his young girlfriend, Terry.
All goes well, until after another residential burglary, the gang confronts a con artist they discovered turned into a police informant. Fearing that the man will expose their team, they murder him in cold blood right in front of Brad Jr.
Seriously disturbed by the efforts of his father and his associates to protect their business, Junior leaves the gang, and forms his own crew with his brother Tommy and a few friends. Their first heist however goes south and all are arrested. Everyone is able to post bail except Brad Jr., whose bail is set much higher, in an effort by the district attorney to get Junior to turn the state’s evidence against his father.
Realizing he is in danger, Brad Sr. and his gang set out to silence any would-be rats, resulting in the murder of Tommy and all the other members of Junior’s crew.
With the stakes raised to perilous heights, Brad Jr. must choose between his family or his freedom and his future with Terry.
Despite rave reviews from film critics, including Siskel and Ebert, who both gave the film a thumbs up, upon its original theatrical release Point Blank was a box office bomb, grossing just $2.35 million in a limited release against a budget of $6.5 million. It’s really a shame, because it’s a very good movie and should have been appreciated by a large audience. Although I don’t know about it, I hope the film later became cult in home videos and streaming releases.
Point BlankThe writing is excellent and allows for a slow rise in the stakes that never drags. Plus, the characters’ feelings and motivations are presented smoothly and seamlessly through the action, unlike today’s screenwriters’ lazy method of explaining everything through janky, highly explanatory dialogue.
However, perhaps the film’s most notable attribute is the performances. Both Penn and Walken delivered memorable and searing portrayals, the former aptly exploiting the frustrations of lost and apathetic youth, and the latter portraying a cold, empathy-struggling psychopath without the typical histrionic clichés.
All of this is backed up by very fine cinematography by Juan Ruiz Anchia and excellent film editing by Howard E. Smith. Add songs from the Rolling Stones and Penn’s wife Madonna to this mix and you have a superlative and elegant example of 1980s noir.
For us gearheads things are getting even better, because Point Blank features a bunch of excellent classic muscle cars.
The main car in the film is Brad Sr.’s car, a stunning 1969 Chevy Camaro Z/28 Coupe. a ZL2 induction hood.
The Camaro looks all stock, which means Senior’s car had the 302-cubic-inch small-block V8 with forged pistons, crankshaft and connecting rods, a solid lift camshaft, 11:1 compression. 1 and a Holley carburettor atop a dual-plane intake manifold. Backed by a Muncie four-speed with Hurst Shifter connected to a 12-bolt rear with 3.73 gears, this Z car is one hell of a piece of muscle machinery.
Another car featured in the film is a 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS that Brad Sr. gives to his son. Dressed in faded forest green paint with two black stripes and a black interior, the car is a bit of a beater that clearly lacks the vinyl roof cover once fitted.
There’s what turns out to be a pivotal scene in which Brad Jr. adjusts the car, during which we get several looks at the classic 396 under the hood, but we don’t get any hints at the car’s drivetrain. . Luckily, we’re graced with a few sequences where Junior rips up back roads and we hear that V8 roar.
An additional car Brad Sr. drives is another 1970s GM flagship – a 1971 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme convertible. its hood scoops, trunk-mounted fender and color-keyed wheels.
Other cars that make appearances in the film include a red 1975 AMC Hornet sedan, a 1970 and 1973 Corvette C3, a bloated 1971 Plymouth Road Runner, a 1977 Orange Chevy C10 pickup, and an MG B from 1967. collection of rides.
Point Blank is one of the best films I’ve reviewed in this long-running column. Its combination of ever-growing suspense, classic noir-style writing, superbly subtle direction, and top-notch performances would put it number one in most moviegoers’ estimation. But when you add such an amazing set of muscle cars to the soup, it soars even higher in the eyes of this car-obsessed film student.
I really enjoyed every minute of this movie and I strongly suggest you watch or re-watch it as soon as you can. I give Point Blank seven and a half pistons out of ten, and I intend to add it to my personal film collection.
Until next time!