Monday, March 10, 2008

Vantage Point / ** (PG-13)

Thomas Barnes: Dennis Quaid
Kent Taylor: Matthew Fox
Howard Lewis: Forrest Whitaker
Enrique: Eduardo Noriega
Veronica: Ayelet Zurer
Suarez: Saїd Taghmaoui
Javier: Edgar Ramirez
Rex Brooks: Sigourney Weaver
President Ashton: William Hurt

Columbia Pictures presents a film directed by Pete Travis. Written by Barry Levy. Running time: 90 min. Rated PG-13 (for sequences of intense violence and action, some disturbing images, and brief strong language).

There is a global peace conference being held in Spain where the President of the United States is making a public appearance. President Ashton (William Hurt, “Mr. Brooks”) is there to help develop a peaceful solution to growing global terrorism. Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid, “American Dreamz”), a Secret Service Agent on the president’s protection detail, took a bullet for the president only a year prior. Agent Kent Taylor (Matthew Fox, ABC’s “Lost”) has had to pull strings to get Barnes back on protection detail because his stability has been questioned since the assassination attempt. Rex Brooks (Sigourney Weaver, “The TV Set”) is directing the media coverage for a major news network and dealing with attitude from her on-screen reporter Angie Jones (Zoe Saldana, “The Terminal”). The plaza in which the president’s welcome takes place is crowded with civilians, policemen, secret service agents and—when the president is shot and explosions go off in the plaza and the surrounding area—apparently terrorists.

This is the stage that is set for the multi-perspective thriller “Vantage Point”. According to its tag line the story is “8 Strangers. 8 Points of View. 1 Truth.” It is more like one quarter of a story told from 5 different points of view, and the rest told in a jumble of twists and unmentionable spoilers that leave the audience feeling jerked around by the time they get to the rather uninspired conclusion. The movie is thrilling; I give it that. But its telling is a total mess.

When making this kind of thriller—where the story is told from differing perspectives with new insight gained from each character’s story—it must be calculated down to the minutest of details. Also a thriller that involves unforeseen plot twists and surprises runs the risk of making the audience feel tricked or duped. Even though we go to the movies to be entertained, we don’t like to be jerked around. So such an undertaking requires the utmost care. Everything must be in its proper place, or the audience will either be confused, or worse they won’t care.

In the case of “Vantage Point”, the filmmakers were seemingly so excited with their multi-perspective concept that they just couldn’t wait to get every character’s point of view out for the audience to see. It starts with the media coverage. A good starting point, since the news media today exists to get the news to the people as it happens and sort everything out later. Unfortunately, the media here never get the chance for the latter. That would have been a nice way to sort out the pieces.

The media’s coverage lasts for the film’s first five or six minutes. The next four perspectives each run slightly longer than that, but they are all so brief it seems as if the filmmakers are more concerned about selling this multi-perspective concept than they are about actually telling the story. Each person’s story is told just short of the point where something important to the mystery of the plot is revealed. What did Agent Barnes see in the video tape made by the tourist (Forrest Whitaker, “The Last King of Scotland”) who seemed more interested in his surroundings than by seeing the president? Who did the Spanish police officer witness getting out of a police car at a designated rendezvous point? What happened to the little girl who wandered out in front of an ambulance speeding away? And what is the significance of the ambulance’s occupants? What did Barnes see in the news footage that changed his whole perspective on what had gone on up to that point?

Questions like these keep the plot going.“Vantage Point” brings these questions, but instead of continuing to build upon and answer them, it abandons the concept to try to make sense of everything from everyone’s perspective. Or perhaps it’s no one’s perspective. These stories usually require a neutral perspective to let the audience in on the big picture. That’s why not getting back to the news media is such a mistake.

Even beyond the film’s structural problems are lapses in logistical details, such as how the news coverage continues to switch camera angles when the director and board operator are sitting there in mute awe of the events they’re witnessing. Or is it really very likely the Secret Service would return a man to such a high level detail if they were unsure of his mental status? And even though that question is eventually answered, wouldn’t a man as intelligent as Barnes question such a decision? With such a high-concept piece as “Vantage Point,” everything has to fit or the whole game is given away from the beginning.

For people who are unfamiliar with the story device, “Vantage Point” may play as a viable thriller. There is plenty of action; and if you aren’t well versed in this structure, you may be pulled in just enough to wonder just how it all fits together in the end. But this movie won’t be anything new for people who have seen “Rashômon”, several similar “X-Files” episodes, “Pulp Fiction”, or any one of hundreds of copies of this cinematic style. For them “Vantage Point” will seem like the Sloppy Joe version of the hamburger.

1 comment:

Alan Bacchus said...

This movie sucks. They should have had a viewpoint of the 'double' who brought in to take a bullet for the President. Egads!