Friday, February 22, 2008

Vantage Point


Forced Perspective

The idea of seeing the same event from different points of view is very compelling. What appears to be one thing to one person, can be seen as something totally different to someone else. This method of storytelling was pioneered by the late Akira Kurosawa in one of his greats, Rashomon (1950). Since then it has been done numerous times, and now we get it again in Vantange Point, which involves the retelling of an apparent assassination plot seen from too many different pairs of eyes, none of which we really care about.

U.S. President Ashton (William Hurt) is attending a “War Against Terror” summit in Spain. Upon approaching the pulpit to speak to an outdoor crowd, he is gunned down from a nearby building. A muffled explosion is heard, then an enormous one rips through the plaza. The event is retold through five different points of view: A TV director, a secret service agent, a videotaping bystander, the President himself, and the terrorist mastermind behind it all. But what really happened?

This method of revisiting the same incident can be interesting when done right (see the short-lived TV series Boomtown (2002) for a good example). The problem here is that it’s used to cover the fact that this is a short film padded out to ninety minutes. After ten minutes or so, everything “rewinds” and we go back to the beginning. The filmmakers use this effect every time we switch perspectives, and it gets annoying fast. Equally as annoying is that not one of these characters we ride along with is fleshed out enough to generate one iota of sympathy. Why should we care what the truth is?

The cast is peppered with veterans (Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Dennis Quaid, Forest Whitaker) and they are always good, but the script gives them nothing to work with, and paints their characters so thinly that we hardly know them. Quaid is the Secret Service guy that once took a bullet for the president and is now just getting back into service. We get about two lines of dialogue (and one brief flashback) that explains this, but we never get a real sense of how messed up he’s supposed to be. Quaid plays it very intense, but it’s a waste of his ability when he’s not allowed to bring us into his torment.

The movie also breaks it’s own rules. We get the rewinding thing about five times and then it is suddenly dropped, and the story plays on in real time. Huh? Why did we bother seeing things from different eyes only to resort to a conventional narrative? Does this mean the whole film could have played out this way? Probably. What it says to me is that the “switching perspectives” is so much of a gimmick that even the writer didn’t trust it to carry the whole film.

The devil is always in the details and Vantage Point screws a lot of them up, too. The TV director never says “take”. Secret service guys shoot warning shots into the air, then into a crowd of people. A female terrorist hesitates to kill someone she hardly knows, then flippantly kills one of her own comrades. The final scene plays out around an event so unbelievable from what went before that it generated an audible moan from this reviewer. In a good movie, stuff like this is forgivable, but not here.

Some things in Vantage Point did work for me. It was somewhat exciting, and I really liked things that were taken in different ways by different characters (a threatening grasp of a woman by a man is misinterpreted as a passionate embrace). The action was also well done, despite being a little too Bourne-ish. It was never dull, and clocked in at a tight hour-and-a-half.

Vantage Point is an okay movie that squanders its nifty premise, under develops its characters, and doesn’t play fair. It’s a so-so diversion that will quickly be forgotten as you exit the theater. For a more satisfying experience, try Rashomon. Try Boomtown. Skip Vantage Point.

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