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 V.17 No.8 | February 21 - 27, 2008 

Film Review

Vantage Point

In the year of the Writers Guild strike, do we really need a movie made entirely of reruns?

“Stop or I’ll shoot the screenwriter!”
“Stop or I’ll shoot the screenwriter!”

Vantage Point

Directed by Pete Travis

Cast: Dennis Quaid, William Hurt, Matthew Fox

Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 film Rashomon features one of the most borrowed/refigured/ripped-off/homaged plot structures in the history of movies. In it, a heinous crime is committed. Four people have witnessed the crime. Each one tells their own version of events. Each person has a different perspective on things. As the story gets repeated, each witness adds more and more details. In the end, which version, if any, is “the truth”?

Vantage Point is the latest film to bend Kurosawa’s groundbreaking (at the time) framework to it own purposes. This version presents us with a ripped-from-the-headlines crime. In Spain to attend a historic political summit aimed at ending global terrorism, the unpopular President of the United States (amusingly referred to as “POTUS” throughout the entire film) is assassinated by an unknown killer’s bullet.

Capturing this tragic event on tape are the cameras of an international news crew camped out at the site. A harried network producer (Sigourney Weaver) tries to figure out what just happened, but her efforts are ended by a bomb that rips through the plaza, killing an on-air reporter and countless others.

Following that, the film rewinds (how clever), taking us back in time 20 minutes to show us the “vantage point” of yet another witness. In time, we get a shell-shocked Secret Service agent (Dennis Quaid), a goggle-eyed tourist (Forest Whitaker), a lovelorn Spanish cop (Edgar Ramirez) and at least three others. Six times the film rewinds, giving us seven different versions of the same tale. Each person allegedly has one additional clue as to what really happened. The film never bothers to share any of these clues with the audience, setting up the main problem with any film that tries to replicate Rashomon--namely, it’s not even worth paying attention to the first few stories, since you know you won’t learn the “true” story of what happened until you get to the final version.

As you might expect, it gets a bit boring watching the same events over and over (and over and over and over and over) again. Newbie feature director Pete Travis sends people, cars, bullets and other objects hurtling through the streets of Spain (actually Mexico, subbing for The Continent) with some regularity, giving the illusion of action. What Vantage Point has could more correctly be defined as movement. But action? As in “organized activity to accomplish an objective”? Not so much.

Late in the game, Vantage Point starts cheating. Instead of giving us a different perspective and therefore a wholly different take on the story, the film just keeps repeating the same tale, filling in a few gaps it neglected to inform us about the time before. It’s kind of like listening to your senile grandfather tell a story. ... “Oh, wait. Did I forget to mention the building was on fire? Let me start over.”

The biggest problem is not that Vantage Point wastes so much time in telling its tale, but that it ends up going virtually nowhere. Those toughing it out in search of an answer will find none. Who are these terrorists trying to kill the POTUS? What do they want? Why are they doing it? What’s behind it all? Who’s involved? Moroccans? The vice president? Aliens? The film never bothers to clarify. Aside from a couple of thoroughly expected twists, the film’s narrative peters out, stranding us with one of the most frantic cop-out endings in recent memory. The screenwriter (first-timer Barry Levy) expects us to believe evil, fleeing terrorists who killed hundreds of people would actually swerve to avoid injuring a cute little girl, thereby bringing all divergent storylines crashing together (literally, of course).

Despite a few recognizable names in the cast list, virtually all of them are wooden as hell on screen. Dennis Quaid runs and squints a lot, Forest Whitaker comes across as slightly mentally challenged and Sigourney Weaver isn’t even required to stand up during her nonperformance. It seems like a lot of work went into the surface concept of Vantage Point--from the fractured storyline to the Cloverfield-esque videography to the Bourne Identity-like action scenes. Too bad nobody paid as much attention to foundations like acting, directing and plotting. No matter what perspective you choose to look at it it from, Vantage Point is a mediocre political thriller told in a confusing and ultimately pointless manner.


Vantage Point

Taking its inspiration, as so many other films have, from Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon, this political thriller presents a crime as seen from five different viewpoints. Seems that some terrorists (or are they?) have tried to assassinate the President of the United States (or have they?). A host of witnesses each present their own perspective on the crime, allowing us to see the damn thing again and again and again (and again and again). Starry cast includes Forest Whitaker, Sigourney Weaver, Dennis Quaid, William Hurt and Matthew Fox. 90 minutes PG-13.

 

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