POINT OF NO RETURN
Review by Gordon Justesen
Fonda, Gabriel Byrne, Dermot Mulroney, Anne Bancroft, Harvey Keitel
Director: John Badham
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 109 Minutes
Release Date: April 7, 2009
“I'm through! I'm out!”
“Listen, which word don't you understand? There is no out, there is no through, there is no out!”
As often as I try not to, I sometimes make the unfortunate choice of seeing a remake before seeing the original. Point of No Return, an Americanized version of Luc Besson’s popular 1991 French thriller, La Femme Nakita, is perhaps the first time I let this happen. Granted, I was 14 at the time and had not yet given into the idea of subtitled films.
But I have seen Besson’s original film in the time since and, brace yourself for a most controversial statement, I find Point of No Return to be the better of the two. It’s strange that I find myself saying this, mainly because Besson is pretty much considered the godfather of the assassin thriller. After Nikita, he delivered what many consider to be the granddaddy of the subgenre, The Professional.
This version is helmed by John Badham, who specialized in making many well crafted action thrillers during the 80s and 90s, among them Blue Thunder, WarGames and the heavily underrated 1991 action comedy, The Hard Way. And as it stands, Point of No Return is one of Badham’s best efforts to date. He brings a great deal of slick style to this American version, which does more than equal the dark edge of Besson’s film.
Another reason I prefer this version can be summed up in two words; Bridget Fonda. I used to be madly in love with her, and in revisiting this film I can confirm that the crush still exists. Not only is she a beauty, but she’s always been a phenomenal actress, and she suits the role of an action heroine extremely well.
Fonda plays Maggie Hayward, who at the beginning of the movie is a strung out junkie who rides with a gang looking to knock over any nearby location as long as it can lead to providing a drug fix. They choose a drugstore, where they are soon surrounded by cops, who then open fire on the entire gang. But Maggie is the only one left alive, and does not hesitate to shoot a cop dead when she is discovered.
She is then sentenced to death by lethal injection to be carried out immediately. What follows is a scene that is something of a surprise in terms of execution (no pun intended). Maggie is strapped to a chair and given the fatal injection in a sequence so effectively shot and directed by Badham that it looks to be the most disturbing scene of capital punishment ever committed to film.
But Maggie is surprised to find herself alive when she wakes up in what appears to be a secret government facility. She is soon confronted by a man who calls himself Bob (Gabriel Byrne). He informs her that she has one of two choices; either train to become a government assassin or be put to death for real. Naturally, she chooses the first of the two.
Maggie then undergoes some ultra-serious physical and mental training. She receives an education in proper etiquette from an agency representative named Amanda (Anne Bancroft), in addition to training in combat, weapons and explosives. When her training is completed, and she is given a beauty makeover, Maggie is released to society under a new identity.
After a series of mental exercises, Maggie is sent to live a life in Venice, California. Though she is given time to adjust to a normal society, she is still property of the government and expected to be on call for them 24/7. And she has no doubt become an assassin of the highest level, but her new profession is put to the ultimate test when she unexpectedly falls for a photographer named J.P. (Dermot Mulroney), who lives in her apartment building.
This is quite simply one of the best action thrillers to emerge from the early 90s, and more than 15 years after release it holds up much better than I expected. I had forgotten how well director Badham keeps the tension at a riveting escalating level throughout the movie. Even when the movie stops for a little romance between Fonda and Mulroney, you can definitely feel the next shot of adrenaline around the corner.
But in the end, it’s Bridget Fonda who owns every frame of this movie. Few actresses have the capability of being sexy and dangerously lethal simultaneously without it coming across as a joke, but Fonda sells both sides of the character in a way only an actress of her caliber can. I really do consider this to be one of her top three best roles.
Point of No Return is a prime example of how to make a good remake of an already decent movie, which is a truly tough task to pull off. I consider this to be the fully orchestrated version of La Femme Nakita, with more hardcore violence, better executed action sequences and a level of gloss and style that makes this version all the more memorable. And most importantly, it serves as a reminder that Bridget Fonda is a sexy woman, a true badass, and a truly great actress.
Not only had I not seen the original DVD of the movie, but the last time I saw it was on a VHS copy. And I couldn’t have picked a better time to finally see the movie in an anamorphic widescreen format, because this Blu-ray from Warner offers a most fantastic picture quality. The slick production values really shine in the 1080p, making this 1993 release appears as if it was made today. Sharpness and detail are overwhelmingly good, especially for a film with so many nighttime sequences and dark tones. A bit of grain here and there, but nowhere near distracting. A striking and visually effective handling of a movie that looks so much better in HD.
I have one word for my reaction to the sound quality of the Blu-ray; DAMN! The Dolby TrueHD mix has definitely added a lot of boom to this loud and furious action thriller. Everything sounds fantastic right from the opening frame. The action sequences sound more intense than ever, and the music score by Hans Zimmer is a pure treat for the ears, as is the lineup of songs by the great Nina Simone (the lead character’s favorite singer).
Sadly, just a trailer…but a darn good one!
I’m one of the very few people that find Point of No Return to be a superior remake, but I can’t help it! It took an already good movie, placed the best actress for the role, enhanced various ingredients, and managed to be more entertaining and badass than it had previously been. The Blu-ray release serves as a great reason to revisit this action thriller gem from the early 90s.