Vantage Point (United States, 2008)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

At first glance, Vantage Point looks like it might be inspired by Rashomon - different points-of-view of an incident leading to some greater revelation about the nature of truth. However, while the decision to reveal the story like a puzzle through varying perspectives has a plot-driven reason, it is not to provide a philosophical lesson. Thoughts of Rashomon disappear quickly once the movie begins unspooling. This is a pure, if somewhat derivative, action thriller with aspects of an unsurprising mystery strewn throughout. It's a fast-paced motion picture that fails the "reality test" but maintains a certain intensity for its entire running length. It's entertaining in the same way that an episode of 24 is entertaining, but without the lead character shouting "dammit!" every five minutes.

The central event is the assassination of United States President Ashton (William Hurt) at the gala opening of an anti-terrorism summit in Spain. The film's first ten minutes present this situation from the point of view of a news crew, led by producer Rex Brooks (Sigourney Weaver). Things are chaotic enough until shots ring out, then panic ensues. There is a distant explosion followed by a closer, more devastating one that kills the reporter on the scene. Vantage Point then represents this period from four other perspectives: secret service agent Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid), police officer Enrique (Eduardo Noriega), tourist Howard Lewis (Forest Whitaker), and the President. Each episode not only reveals new things about the previously depicted events but takes the story a little further into the future. The sixth and final segment uses multiple new points-of-view - primarily those of the assassins and their associates - to close holes and drive the story to a conclusion.

First-time director Pete Travis and screenwriter Barry L. Levy deserve a modicum of credit for developing a movie in which a non-chronological method makes sense. This isn't a gimmick; it's germane to the manner in which the plot unfolds. However, the approach becomes repetitive after a while, muting the potential of suspense. One could argue that cascading perspectives resonate better in dramas than in thrillers. Travis also shows promise in crafting action scenes. The climactic car chase isn't an "edge of the seat" experience but it avoids the sense of boredom that often accompanies such scenes. When it comes to replicating real-life politics and security procedures, Vantage Point stumbles badly but, as in Air Force One, it doesn't much matter. The verisimilitude reaches the level one would expect from this sort of scenario.

As one might suppose from a film that switches perspectives every 15 minutes, there's no real "star." The actors with the most face time are William Hurt, who could play a distinguished role in his sleep (and often seems to), and Dennis Quaid, who is credible as the perpetually scowling veteran Secret Service agent who has already taken a bullet for his Commander in Chief. Other notable names like Forest Whitaker and Sigourney Weaver don't have a lot to do. In fact, Weaver's participation is little more than a walk-on. Meanwhile, Whitaker's role, while largely superfluous and seemingly included to pad the running time, is critical to the eventual resolution of the plot. His experimentation with on-the-move amateur videography is nonsensical. (These days, there's an epidemic of amateur video recording - consider also Cloverfield and Diary of the Dead.) Matthew Fox is lost in the part of Quaid's partner and Eduardo Noriega is a police officer who's either involved in the assassination or is being set up.

The movie's opening 10 minutes are more effective than any of the subsequent re-tellings. They are chilling in the way they detail the attack and its immediate aftermath. The decision to use a behind-the-scenes look at a faux newscast allows the audience to climb behind the camera and view events from a detached perspective. Glimpses are provided of seeming irrelevancies that eventually become important clues. The movie's central mysteries, including the identity of the conspirators, are transparent and easily guessed, and that takes away some of the fun. This is a case when a film tries to fool us into believing it's smarter than it is.

Vantage Point doesn't push a political agenda, although there is a scene in which the President overrides his hawk advisors. The setting of an anti-terrorism summit is merely a convenient way to establish the setting outside of the United States. The motives of the attackers are murky; they have something to do with nationalism and revenge, but the specifics are never revealed. The conclusion is contingent upon a ridiculous coincidence, although the plot is constructed in such a way that it doesn't feel like an afterthought. Vantage Point offers a modicum of entertainment but it requires viewers to react more forcefully from the gut than the mind. It's viscerally effective but lobotomized.

Vantage Point (United States, 2008)

Run Time: 1:30
U.S. Release Date: 2008-02-22
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1