Monday, July 18, 2016

Vantage Point (2008)

Director: Pete Travis                                         Writer: Barry L. Levy
Film Score: Atli Örvarsson                                Cinematography: Amir Mokri
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Forest Whitaker, William Hurt and Matthew Fox

It figures that when Hollywood finally got around to making something on par with Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, it would be an action movie. By comparison . . . well, there is no comparison. Taken on its own, however, and on its own terms, Vantage Point is a pretty good thriller that keeps the viewer’s attention—maybe not in the way it intended, but working out the puzzle is certainly worth the waiting around. Where Kurosawa’s Japanese film dealt with the differing perceptions people have about the same event, this is a technology-based story where the event is the same for all the participants but their access to the information about the event is limited in various ways. Reviews were mixed, which is absolutely no surprise. For some reviewers the action and the puzzle were all that was necessary, but for many others the repetition of the same story eight times wore thin quickly. What the average viewer thinks will pretty much fall into one of those two camps. The film was shot in Mexico City, and though it rained through much of the shoot a lot of post-production work managed to iron out the differences in the takes. But it wasn’t done without a price. The artificiality of many scenes, while not obvious, is an unnecessary reminder that breaks the suspension of disbelief far too often.

The film begins with a news team in the production van outside a square in Spain were world leaders are to speak about a global conference on terrorism that is taking place in their city. Sigourney Weaver is the producer in the van and Zoe Saldana is the reporter on the scene. William Hurt, as the President of the United States, rolls up in his bullet-proof limousine, and Weaver notices that Secret Service agent Dennis Quaid is on the job, even though he took a bullet for Hurt less than a year ago. But before the speeches even begin, Hurt is shot and a bomb goes off that kills Saldana. Back the story up a half hour, and Quaid is alone in his hotel room before the speech, on pain pills and having flashbacks of the previous shooting. He’s sees two things during the current assassination. He sees where the shots came from but he also sees Forest Whitaker in the crowd taking video looking the wrong direction. After Hurt is moved, Quaid finds Whitaker and looks at his tape. He sees the bomb planted, but is too late to stop it from going off, and finally makes his way out to the television van. Back to the arrival of the president, Eduardo Noriega is apparently a cop assigned to protect the mayor of the city, and he spots Edgar Ramírez talking to girlfriend Ayelet Zurer. But Zurer is supposed to be Noriega’s girlfriend, and when he gives her the bag she wanted from the house, he realizes too late it’s the bomb.

The scene goes back to Forest Whitaker this time, then from William Hurt’s perspective, and then the villains, each time taking the story a little bit further along. The Hurt segment, with Bruce McGill as his hawkish aide, is particularly intriguing and changes the entire complexion of the film. There are some problems, to be sure. For one thing, there is no way on Earth that the secret service would have allowed that outdoor speech in a closed off square surrounded by windows. Wouldn’t have happened. For another thing, the subplot involving William Hurt seems more like urban myth that a believable plot point. But that’s when the film really gets going. Much more is happening between Noriega, Ramírez and Zurer that at first meets the eye. Matthew Fox, as Quaid’s partner, and the friendly Saïd Taghmaoui also figure prominently into the puzzle. Of course there’s the obligatory car chase at the end of the film, and all of the characters wind up in the same spot at the same time for the surprisingly anti-climactic ending. Though it wasn’t a box-office smash--especially after word got out--it did make back nearly double its production costs domestically, and essentially made the same in the international market. Vantage Point isn’t something that most viewers will want to see more than once, but do catch it on cable and give it a chance.