Film Score: Harry Gregson-Williams Cinematography: Paul Cameron
Starring: Denzel Washington, Paula Patton, Val Kilmer and Jim Caviezel
Déjà Vu, directed by Tony Scott, is just one in a string of unique crime dramas that the star seems drawn to. This is a good one, a high-tech version of Otto Preminger’s Laura. The film was shot in New Orleans just one year after Hurricane Katrina, and the director had to delay the production in order to shoot there rather than on Long Island where the screenplay was originally set. Everyone involved, however, thought it a worthwhile endeavor to bring much needed cash into the area. Scott and Washington have a long history, going back to Crimson Tide and Man on Fire before this film, and The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 after. And while the screenwriters were unhappy with the changes that Scott made to the script, the film is a masterpiece of time travel fiction combined with the romanticism of the 1944 original that delivers a satisfying story in both genres.
The film opens on busloads of navy sailors meeting wives, girlfriends, and family members for a trip across the Mississippi river to the French Quarter in New Orleans for the Fat Tuesday celebration. Also on the ferry are members of a grade school field trip and non-military families. From the Crescent City Bridge a man watches the ferry and then leaves. Shortly after a ferry worker discovers a pickup truck with no license plates and shortly after the entire ferry explodes, killing most of those onboard. Denzel Washington as an ATF agent comes to the scene, visibly disturbed by the body bags, finds evidence of the detonator washed up onshore and residue of the explosive itself underneath the bridge. Back at the office he spots the man on the bridge on the surveillance tapes, and calls back a woman who left a message with a fellow agent. Meanwhile, FBI agent Bruce Greenwood is put in charge of the investigation and Val Kilmer is his man on the ground. When the burned body of Paula Patton is discovered washed up across the river an hour before the explosion, he goes to her apartment and finds the words “U Can Save Her” spelled out on magnets on the fridge and blood on the floor. Listening back to her phone messages, he’s spooked to hear his own voice when he called her back earlier in the day.
Things become personal when Washington is told his partner, Matt Craven, was on the ferry. This is just the angle Greenwood and Kilmer need to pull Washington in to a special investigative unit. Little does he know, however, that his job will be to go back in time. The fascinating aspect of the story is that he doesn’t travel back as an individual. The device, run by the military, is able to go four and a half days back in time, anywhere on earth, but can only be viewed once. With three days to go before they can see the explosion again, Washington tells them to go to Patton’s house. It’s here that the film transforms into something like Laura, with Washington becoming obsessed with Patton, convinced that only in watching her life can they catch the killer. The film is science-fiction, but only in the strictest sense at first. Developer Adam Goldberg tells Washington it’s based on surveillance satellites and the data takes four days to assemble. But after watching Patton for a couple of days, Washington sends the beam of a laser pointer into the past where Patton sees it, and Goldberg is forced into telling Washington that they’ve accidentally discovered a wrinkle in time. They can’t send humans back, but Washington tells them to send a piece of paper back, to him, so that he can solve the crime before the ferry blows up.
One of the things that Denzel Washington has is an ability to effortlessly demonstrate his intense emotionally connection of his character in a way that has few peers. And he doesn’t try to hide it. The visible internal conflict within his character is incredibly realistic. But the screenplay is what makes the film. At one point Bill Marsilii and Terry Rossio give Washington a variation of his “tell me like I’m a five-year-old” speech from Philadelphia when he’s trying to get information from the scientists. But they also give Goldberg a couple of terrific pop culture references, one is when Washington yells at him and Goldberg references Airplane when he says, “Looks like I picked a bad week to stop snorting hash,” and another when they’re sending the note through and he references SNL by yelling, “I need more cowbell.” The second half is a rollercoaster ride that would do a disservice to the film to reveal. Suffice it to say, nothing is as it initially seems, and just when it seems it’s over it keeps on going. Jim Caviezel, no stranger to time travel films after starring in Frequency, switches things up by playing the villain here, but all of the principals are exceptional. The ending is absolutely incredible, in all of its meanings, and rewards all of the two hours and five minutes of running time. Déjà Vu is an incredibly entertaining combination of crime drama and time travel that earns my highest recommendation.