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Vantage Point
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Many Points Of View, No Discernible Point"
2 stars

With its combination of a plot involving vast governmental conspiracies, moles hiding in plain sight in the corridors of power and multiple attempts on the life of the President of the United States, a tough-but-resourceful hero-with-a-past who easily absorbs the kind of punishment that would cripple or kill a normal man, a highly compressed time-frame and an overlapping story structure that allow us to see key events from multiple viewpoints, it becomes evident quite early on that the makers of the new thriller “Vantage Point” are trying to one-up the hit TV show “24" by creating a film that includes all of the various twists and turns that have become synonymous with that program but manages to cram them all into 90 minutes instead of stretching them out over the course of 22-odd hours. It sounds like a great idea, especially for those of us who have been waiting patiently for the Jack Bauer Power Hour to hit the big screen, but the problem with “Vantage Point” is that it also becomes evident early on that the makers of the film must have used the show’s sixth season, generally regarded by fans as the weakest and most implausible of the bunch, as a general template–like that particular series of episodes, it starts off strong but quickly becomes so contrived and repetitive that by the time it finally lumbers to its deeply unsatisfying and ludicrously melodramatic finale, you feel like an idiot for having wasted your time watching it. The advantage here, of course, is that with the film’s greatly reduced running time in comparison to the show, it doesn’t take nearly as long for that is-that-all-there-is? feeling to kick in, a great convenience for those who are pressed for time.

The film opens with a massive outdoor summit meeting in Salamanca, Spain, where many of the world’s leaders have gathered to sign a historic counter-terrorism treaty. Through the eyes of a cable news network producer (Sigourney Weaver) and her upstart reporter (Zoe Saldana), who helpfully reminds us during an on-air report that America is not thought of very highly in some parts of the world, we see U.S. President Ashton (William Hurt) being gunned down at the podium just before he is about to speak, followed immediately by a bomb that blows the area to smithereens. At this point, the film literally rewinds and we go through roughly the same time period that we just experienced, this time through the eyes of veteran Secret Service agent Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid), a man who took a bullet for the president a year earlier and who is making his first official appearance since that day at the insistence of fellow agent Kent Taylor (Matthew Fox). This time, the narrative goes a little bit further before winding back again and this pattern repeats itself three more times–taking the perspective of an American tourist (Forest Whitaker) who seems to have captured most of the action on his video camera, a local policeman (Edgar Ramirez) who unwittingly finds himself more involved in the action than he could have anticipated and President Ashton himself–before finally giving it up in the last half-hour or so to for a more conventional final act involving shoot-outs, car chases and a highly unlikely denouement in which virtually all of the key players in the story (and some not-so-key players as well) somehow manage to find themselves converging on the same highway underpass at the exact same time. (Just in case you were wondering, those other world leaders who were attending the summit and who were presumably blown up real good in the explosion are never referred to again once during the rest of the film.)

All of this sounds vaguely interesting in theory, I suppose, but the problem with “Vantage Point” is that the entire thing hangs completely on a narrative gimmicks that isn’t that innovative in the first place and which doesn’t really add that much to the proceedings. For example, think back to such brilliant films as “Pulp Fiction” and “Memento”–both of those titles employed elaborate narrative tricks to tell their tales but because the underlying stories were so strong on the basic fundamentals of storytelling that you could have stripped away the more outlandish elements and still been left with reasonably gripping films. By comparison, the narrative gymnastics that screenwriter Barry L. Levy indulges in exist only to add layers of obfuscation to a storyline that is alternately predictable (if you can’t figure out who the secret villain is within five minutes of his or her first appearance, you deserve to sit through this movie), shameless (because there apparently isn’t enough drama to be had with international terrorism or massive assassination attempts, the film actually trucks in a little Spanish girl for no other reason than to put her in mortal danger as well at the climax) or inexplicable (having seen the entire film and the full scope of the plot against the U.S. President, I still cannot understand who the bad guys are ( aside from the fact that they are swarthy as all get out), what they hoped to accomplish from their activities or why they decided to accomplish them using a plan so wildly complex, convoluted and overpopulated that even Rube Goldberg himself might have gone back to the drawing board in an attempt to simplify things a bit). Of course, a master cinematic stylist–Brian De Palma immediately leaps to mind, possibly because he already did something along these lines with his extraordinary “Snake Eyes”–might have made viewers forget these massive logical flaws, or at least ignore them until long after the end credits have finished rolling, with sheer technical skill alone but whatever words one might want to use to describe director Pete Travis (making his feature debut after working in the Irish television industry), “master cinematic stylist” are not three that immediately spring to mind. Yes, the film is quick and flashy enough and there is the occasional technical flourish that impresses but for the most part, he merely records the material instead of transforming it into something else and as a result, it becomes more and more difficult as time goes on to ignore the flaws as they pile up higher and higher.

Outside of a nicely grave performance from Dennis Quaid (like Kurt Russell, he is one of those actors who just keeps getting better and better as they grow older), there is relatively little on hand for viewers to take away from “Vantage Point”–this is a film where everyone was evidently so enthralled with the basic premise that they never quite got around to figuring out how to make it work as anything other than a cinematic parlor trick that gets less and less impressive the more times that it is repeated. (Even more bizarrely, the only vaguely intriguing twist on display has been so thoroughly spoiled by the coming attractions preview that if you are still thinking of seeing the film and haven’t yet viewed the amazingly omnipresent trailer, do everything in your power to avoid it.) And yet, I have to admit that it is a nifty basic premise and maybe seeing it deployed as unsuccessfully as it has been done here may inspire someone to work out the kinks and try it again in the service of a different story. My idea–do a film that follows around a bunch of different actors as they slowly begin to realize that the hi-tech conspiracy thriller that they signed on to do is nowhere near as smart or crafty as they allowed themselves to believe it was. Of course, if someone shot a behind-the-scenes documentary of the making of “Vantage Point” for the DVD, I guess that idea has already been used.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17000&reviewer=389
originally posted: 02/22/08 00:00:00
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User Comments

4/14/20 Charles Tatum Not terrible, despite some huge convenient plot points 4 stars
12/04/09 Chris F not bad but expected a lot more from this film 3 stars
8/30/09 Jose is everybody in Salamanca running in circles non-stop? 1 stars
1/20/09 Peter North no boner salute. terrible movie. 1 stars
9/03/08 Stu Rat Could've been something other than a steaming pile but unfortunately it's not 2 stars
8/02/08 markgse Jept my interest. Well put together. I'm gonna rent the DVD. 4 stars
7/28/08 mary mcmuray This was different, slightly confusing but I did like it. 3 stars
7/27/08 g. entertaining but not great 3 stars
7/19/08 Jayson It could have been a smart movie but the last act was too contrived. 3 stars
7/06/08 action movie fan terriffic tense thriller-lots ofsuspense and great action 5 stars
4/25/08 ladavies Would have been great if not for the rewinding. 3 stars
4/22/08 Jodi I agree with Anthony, the rewinding was annoying. Film was just ok for me. 3 stars
4/16/08 Quigley Interesting way to tell a story. Plot and acting was good but it's been done better before 4 stars
3/31/08 will i am well made movie 4 stars
3/16/08 damalc thrilling, excellent car chase, sigourney weaver was wasted 4 stars
3/16/08 Mack Love the car chase, althought terrorists were pretty easy to figure out from the beginning 3 stars
3/16/08 Dinesh Interesting story and well made movie 4 stars
3/09/08 Bubba O'Reilly As usual, Akira Kurosawa's original is better. See Rashômon for a better version. 3 stars
3/02/08 Nicholas Plowman I did not enjoy this film at all, it was messy and unoriginal with a shaky script - miss it 2 stars
2/24/08 Anthony Feor It delivers what it promises but you'll get tired of the rewinding back every five minutes 4 stars
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  22-Feb-2008 (PG-13)
  DVD: 01-Jul-2008



[trailer] Trailer

Directed by
  Pete Travis

Written by
  Barry L. Levy

  Dennis Quaid
  Matthew Fox
  Forest Whitaker
  Sigourney Weaver
  William Hurt

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