Given the vast amount of money Columbia Pictures has spent marketing
the film — and the fact that apparently a decent portion of the
audience at this week’s Los Angeles media screening still weren’t aware
of its split points-of-view style, and the somewhat ironic nature of
its title — it’s worth pointing out, as two-thirds of film critics are
wont to do, that Vantage Point is a “Rashomon-style” political thriller in which eight strangers with eight different viewpoints try to unlock the single truth behind an assassination attempt on the president of the United States.
The easy, and perhaps fun, critical tack would be to turn this same sort of filter back upon the film and its participants, assaying in sequestered fashion the component parts (screenplay, direction, acting, editing, photography, etcetera) that make up the whole. The truth is that Vantage Point doesn’t merit quite that much consistency of analytical effort. There are some good parts, but the movie is an enterprise hamstrung from early on, and thus its faults can be traced quite easily and non-fussily back to the major cornerstones (writing and directing) of its rendering.
Set in Salamanca, Spain, the story unfolds at a summit of world leaders at which the American president (William Hurt) is set to unveil a bold new anti-terrorist measure. Assigned to protect him are Secret Service agents Kent Taylor (Matthew Fox) and Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid), the latter of whom is a recently returned-to-work hero who’s already taken a bullet for his boss. When President Ashton is shot on stage in a large, public square, chaos ensues. A bomb explodes outside the walled-off venue, and then another larger explosion rips through the main platform. Among those present are a reporter (Zoe Saldana), a local cop (Eduardo Noriega), three mysterious, whispering bystanders (Said Taghmaoui, Ayelet Zurer and Domino‘s Edgar Ramirez) and an American tourist, Howard (Forest Whitaker), who thinks he might have captured the shooter on his camcorder while videotaping the event for his kids back home.
Vantage Point feels very much like what it is, which is to say a screenplay written by television development executive turned debut screenwriter Barry L. Levy. Vantage Point‘s conceit affords the audience an aerial view of matters, but there’s no significant investigative mooring (apart from two bits that Barnes glimpses in camera footage, which apparently tells him everything he needs to know) to make the forward-push of the narrative matter, so upon the fifth rewind of the event in question, an exasperated audience member let loose an, “Oh, God!”, which was promptly met with nervous laughs of increasingly sympathetic identification.
Director Pete Travis has previous experience with political violence; his debut film, Omagh, focused on a 1998 bombing in Northern Ireland, and picked up a few festival prizes, though no Stateside distribution. Here, though, he’s given a script that substitutes whiz-bang car chases and cheap emotional gambits (a child imperiled, standing in the middle of a busy road) in place of anything slightly more interesting. That means, as the movie wears on, more and more jittery, Bourne-style-lite mayhem, with edits every one-half to one-third a second.
Vantage Point is essentially a single, episodic set piece of an episode of 24, stretched like taffy into a mad-dash exercise in button-pushing exploit-ainment. The air-quote explanation of the entire plot basically distills down to the line, “This war will never end,” which is offered up in a raspy, death-rattle confession by one of the complicit terrorists. The motivation (religious fanaticism? political disenfranchisement? old-fashioned greed?) is never really explained, though we’re led to believe it’s perhaps elements of all of these, as well as… blackmail? Sorry, that just doesn’t pass the smell test.
To render all this carnage in PG-13 strokes seems additionally ludicrous, and requires that Travis and editor Stuart Baird cut away from and otherwise “stunt” (including a slight, stuttering-frame effect) more than a dozen gunshots that are by implication lethal. Poor Dennis Quaid tries, and is as much of an anchoring presence as the story will allow. Vantage Point, though, has no unifying vision of purpose — either of its own, or the world at its center. For a slightly tweaked version of this review, from FilmStew, click here.