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Vantage Point a Lesson in Gimmicky Mediocrity

Vantage Point
Directed by Pete Travis
Written by Barry Levy
Sony, 2008

Owning one of the most exciting trailers of the past year, Vantage Point promised a nonstop adrenaline rush, something that would churn action from the opening credits to the closing and have lots of fun playing with perspectives, unveiling secrets while keeping a sustained momentum.

But films like these are tailor-made for trailers.  It reminded me of a film that came out ten years ago, Brian De Palma’s Snake Eyes, which had the same sort of promise in the art of perspective.  That movie failed for the most part, unable to live up to the potential intrigue.  We have seen the changing-perspective work: Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown is the one that comes immediately to mind, but remember Jackie Brown never used this as anything but a storytelling technique that added to the suspense, peeling layers in an entertaining way, and used only in the film’s climax.

Vantage Point kicks off well, as we see the President of the U.S. (William Hurt) visit Spain in a World Summit from the media perspective.  Rex Brooks (Sigourney Weaver) tries to wrangle several cameras and an itching-to-go-rogue reporter (Zoe Saldana) to give the “GNN” network the best angle for the historic meeting.  Then we see the President shot, mayhem, some random guy gets tackled (hear a mysterious explosion in the distance, and then the whole stage erupts from a hidden bomb.

But then, the momentum gets stopped, rewound, and we go to Secret Service agents Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid) and Kent Taylor (Matthew Fox).  Barnes took a bullet for the Pres not so long ago, and now he’s back to work maybe a little too soon.  He’s almost a carbon copy of Clint Eastwood from In the Line of Fire.  Barnes sees something from a window, sees a spectator, Howard (Forest Whitaker), with a video camera who might have captured the killing, and then he sees something on the media broadcast that gets him running.

So it goes, back and forth, then we see the pretty unimportant Howard perspective, rewind.  We see the tackled guy’s perspective.  Rewind.  We see the President’s perspective.  He wasn’t actually at the pomp, circumstance, shooting, bombing.  Interesting.  Rewind.  Finally we see the terrorist perspective and the movie finally, finally, revs up.  By this time we don’t have any more secrets.  The major whammy is out of the bag and the movie’s rather ridiculous climax exposes it for what it really is: a planned gimmick that tried to punch up a straightforward thriller had it been told conventionally.

Those rewinds are like watching a football team false-start repeatedly for an entire 80-yard drive.  Anyone who watches football knows that false starts are kryptonite not only for the offensive team but for the viewers as well, because it’s something the offense should be able to control and mind-numbingly don’t.  The problem is that this movie could have been told in a linear fashion, still played with perspective, and had a sustained driving narrative.  The story would have been good enough and it could have been above-average or better, and it’s a blown opportunity.  

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