26 February 2008

Vantage Point

About halfway through the film, the groans started. The audience was audibly frustrated, and they had no qualms expressing it. By the third or fourth time that the film “Vantage Point” rewound to start the events over again from someone else’s perspective, that frustration was starting to get loud.
Such is the inherent problem with the gimmick behind the film. The basic premise, of at least the first hour, is that you will see several different viewpoints of a presidential assassination and terrorist bombing during an international summit in Spain. Owing an obvious debt to Akira Kurosawa’s “Rashomon,” the goal is that each viewpoint holds different clues to unraveling the mystery at hand, which in this case is who assassinated the president and set off the bomb.
You’ve got the secret service agent Thomas Barnes, played with an ever-present grimace by Dennis Quaid. There’s an American tourist, Howard Lewis, played by last year’s Best Actor winner Forest Whitaker. There’s a Spanish police officer, Enrique, who is enigmatic and possibly useless to the story.
And let’s not forget the President (William Hurt) and the terrorists themselves, who occupy the last frame of reference. Between each section, the director employs a rather obnoxious and obvious rewind effect and then displays a ticking clock showing us that we’ve gone back to the beginning. After a while it feels like several episodes of “24.”
But the clock is not the only thing that makes the film feel like television. Each section ends with a cliffhanger, and it starts to feel very contrived. There’s enough to this story to keep us interested, so why rely on artificial suspense?
There are some merits to the style, though. It’s a fresh take on what could (or might be) a very average story. And we are allowed the perspective of people who would not normally be caught up in a thriller like this.
It could be done well, but it gets to be a little too messy. The timelines don’t always match up and the aforementioned rewind effect and other elements tend to dumb it down a little, as if we could not pick up on it on our own.
Luckily, after an hour, that technique is exhausted and we get to the payoff: a thirty-minute non-stop action sequence that is meticulously choreographed and finally gives us the gratification the audience deserves by then. Car chases, espionage, betrayals, kidnappings, murder, all boiled down into a frenetic and tight scene that almost makes up for what’s gone before.
When it all comes together, it makes sense and we can sit back and enjoy. It just makes you wish the rest of the film had just dispensed with the gimmick that it could not employ flawlessly. There’s the end of a good movie here, but you have to settle for less in order to get there.
It takes expert filmmakers to pull off the kind of film that director Pete Travis has tried to present here. You have to have a certain respect for your audience’s intelligence and a strong sense of narrative momentum. I’m just not sure those involved were up to the task this time.

1 comment:

Neal said...

Is it worth seeing? I kind of wanted to see it.