Monday, July 7, 2008

Vantage Point

Director: Pete Travis
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Matthew Fox, Forest Whitaker, William Hurt, Edgar Ramirez, Sigourney Weaver

Running Time: 90 min.

Rating: PG-13

**1/2 (out of ****)

I really can’t stand it when a film’s trailer gives away a key plot point, especially if revealing it serves no purpose other than to stifle the viewer’s enjoyment of the movie. In the case of the Rashomon style mystery thriller Vantage Point, the twist in question happens to be incredibly far-fetched and dumb and the movie probably would have been more effective without it. Still, revealing it was unwise. I just sat there looking at my watch waiting for the moment it would occur, rather than being on the edge of my seat. Why the studio would do that is a rant for another time, but truthfully, it really doesn’t make a huge difference because the whole thing doesn’t quite work anyway.

At best, Vantage Point is a well-acted, technically slick film with a few good performances and at worst, an achingly repetitive exercise in pointlessness. I suppose that’s to be expected when you show the same event 8 times from 8 different viewpoints without revealing any new information until the final half hour of the film. What the filmmakers forgot was that they didn’t have a story nearly deep or interesting enough to warrant the use (and subsequent abuse) of such a risky device. You shouldn’t need a detailed field guide to keep track of events and characters in a movie. It doesn’t start to get its act together until the end and by the time the pieces come together in a satisfactory manner it’s just too late. We’re too tired to care. In trying invoke Rashomon, the film instead comes off as just a poor man’s sequel to Brian DePalma’s Snake Eyes.

In Spain, United States President Ashton (William Hurt) is giving a speech at an anti-terrorism summit in Spain when an assassination attempt is made on his life. Covering the event is a news team led by a demanding, but effective producer (well-played by Sigourney Weaver). The first (and best) ten minutes of the film depict the event from their viewpoint and then the story flashes back to reveal the viewpoints of various other characters including the President himself, a veteran secret service agent (Dennis Quaid) returning to the job after taking a bullet, a tourist (Forest Whitaker) who captures Zapruder-like footage of the event on his camcorder and a mysterious police officer (Eduardo Noriega), who may be involved in the assassination plot.

There are many other periphery characters whose vantage points are explored, very few of which are particularly gripping or interesting. The movie gets so overloaded with characters we forget to care about the actual mystery and worry more about just keeping up with not only them, but also the shaky hand-held camera work. Making matters worse is the aforementioned big twist (which I won’t give away) that comes midway through and takes the story in a different, inferior direction, somewhat negating the purpose of the entire story.

A movie with this much going on can’t be an acting showcase but with little screen time she’s given Weaver proves she should have been given more to do while Hurt is unsurprisingly very believable as the President, though it hardly matters given the circumstances of the plot. Whitaker ends up being a slightly more important presence than first appears but through most of the picture you could argue he's wasted. I couldn’t help but feel bad for him having to just hold up that camcorder in the same position for what had to be hundreds of takes of the same scene.

Another equally ridiculous twist comes into play later but at least this one results in a thrilling car chase that almost saves the film as the focus wisely shifts to the only character in this whole mess we actually care about. It’s ironic that only when director abandons the different points of view that the movie finally finds its pulse. Quaid and Lost’s Matthew Fox as his partner end up being the only two actors who have something substantial to show for their screen time and deliver the two best performances. It’s unfair, really, because they were easily given the meatiest material to work with.

The 8 different vantage points gimmick doesn’t help the film because the central story is too weak to contain it. It would have worked far better to instead show different versions of the assassination with different suspects and let the viewer attempt to uncover the perpetrator, kind of like the movie Clue. At least this way we wouldn’t be forced to watch the same scenes over and over with the same result. It tells us nothing about how different people perceive reality, which I’m guessing was the point of the entire exercise. I'm still waiting for this method to one day be used appropriately in relation to the story being told, but more importantly, be executed well.

I’m intrigued by films about assassination attempts and this premise had a ton of potential, but no one involved in the making of this saw that and rather than keeping it simple, the screenwriters poured too much in. It also would have helped if I didn’t have to use the word “assassination” loosely when describing the crime. Director Pete Travis seems to be holding out hope that after the puzzle is solved everyone will want to go back with new information and appreciate how nuanced the performances are, or view the film in a different light. But who would want to waste their time doing that? Vantage Point does an awful lot of work, but by the end, there just isn't enough to show for it.


JD said...

I think your review pretty much sums my feelings on this film.
Poor Man's sequel to Snake Eyes is a good call. A double feature would require lots of alcohol on my part.
Great review!!

Jon Medina: Illegitimate Son of Lester Bangs said...

What a mess this film was. Thank goodness it was entertaining at parts. Great review, brother.