February 24, 2008

Movie Review: Vantage Point

Over the past few months, if you have set foot inside a theater you have seen the trailer for Vantage Point, complete with the now infamous line: "Stop.... rewind that." delivered with perfect intensity by Dennis Quaid. The way the trailer took over nearly every screen, it could only mean one of two things, the studio has that much confidence in the film or they are hoping a ton of promotion will cover up a poor film. Are either of these true? In reality, probably not; in actuality, not really. So, this is one theory that failed to pan out, at least in my experience with the film. I guess the question then becomes if Vantage Point is worth spending time with or not. Even that answer is not so easy to answer as the film lies somewhere in between excellence and excrement. That is a bit extreme, but it makes the point. Advertising and preconceptions never tell the whole story.

The structure of Vantage Point can best be described as Rashomon and Run Lola Run having a head on collision, with this new film as the resulting wreckage. It has neither the greatness of the former, nor the relentlessly infectious energy of the latter. Now, while it does not measure up favorably to either of those films, it may be unfair to compare them. While there is something of a shared structure, they each have distinctly different goals. Vantage Point is dead set on providing an intricate puzzle with a number of players in a high octane thriller. The film never lets up, forcing you to watch everything so as to catch all of the pieces.

The basic plot has the President (William Hurt) being shot just before delivering a speech in Spain about a new plain to unify countries on five continents in the war on global terror. What follows are the events in the twenty minutes leading up to the shots being fired and their immediate aftermath. We get to see these events from the perspectives of all the major players. These players include the news agency covering the event, the secret service agent (Quaid) protecting the President, a tourist (Forest Whitaker) recording the event to show his kids, a Spanish cop who has multiple reasons for being there, as well as a couple more involved in the actual event rather than victims of the aftermath. All of these angles come to a head in an explosive climax where everyone is revealed to everyone else and it is a race against time.

It is within these rewinds and replays that some of the movie's major problems exist. By the time we get into the extended finale, it is already losing steam as the audience has grown weary of the same sequence events over and over again. I could tell the audience I was in was growing a bit restless by the time the third rewind came around. Personally, I did not have much of a problem, aside from the repeated flashing of the start time. It was fine the first time around, but subsequent use was unnecessary and is insulting to the audience. It was as if the makers did not trust the audience to keep up.

Now, if you want a film with character development, you will want to skip this. If you are looking for a film with a well-developed plot, you will want to skip this. If, however, you are interested in a movie that is like a chess game, whose sole purpose is to move players around a board in search of check-mate, this may actually be for you. I think you get the picture. Vantage Point is an exercise in plotting over all else. On that level, the movie is quite successful. There is a constant energy throughout as everything continuously surges ahead with few moments to catch your breath.

Considering the focus, the chessboard aesthetic, there is little room for any extensive plot development. There is supreme focus on the matter at hand rather than the bigger picture. There is no big picture in Vantage Point. There are a few scenes that suggest a larger stage, not to mention a more personal one, but there is no time to explore it. This is a shame, as a little more meat could have made this infinitely more entertaining.

One thing I could not help but notice were the politics that crept into the feature. Early on, a news reporter comments on how many countries look down on the United States, in conjunction with the protestors at the President's appearance. For a moment I thought, erroneously as it turns out, that this film would be a little bit different than your standard terrorist versus super-American film. That thought lasted for mere minutes. It quickly turned into a film where one man puts the pieces together and becomes superhuman in his efforts to stop the plot, which we learn precious little about.

Vantage Point is definitely entertaining. As a first feature for both director Pete Travis and writer Barry Levy, they show skill in weaving together the puzzle pieces and keeping the momentum high. So, while there is room for improvement, it still is intriguing work.

Bottomline. This movie just rushes by, when it ends it is as if no time has passed at all. It is very nearly in real time, offers very little backstory, and when it ends you will be left with a plethora of questions about why what happened happened. It puts all the pieces into place, but you are never allowed to see what it is supposed to look like. Still, it is enjoyable for the adrenaline rush it provides through its frenetic pace.

Mildly Recommended.


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