Jaq's Review: Vantage Point - It's Not Worth Looking
by Jaq Greenspon
February 23, 2008
Recently, there has been a run of films which should be good based on everything from idea to cast to behind the camera talent and yet they just don't work. Vantage Point is the latest entry in this long and distinguished list.
The film steals it's basic idea from Akira Kurosawa's Rashômon, where the same event is seen from differing perspectives. The idea is that when seen from a different angle, different things become more apparent. Here, the central event is the attempted assassination of the President of The United States (William Hurt) while at a summit meeting in Spain and the efforts of Secret Serviceman Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid), who took a bullet for his Commandeer-in-Chief a year prior, to solve the crime.
However, we also see the event from the viewpoint of a live news producer (Sigourney Weaver), an American Tourist (Forest Whitaker), a Spanish police officer (Eduardo Noriega) and even the terrorist mastermind himself (Saïd Taghmaoui). The problem, of course, is that seeing the same event again and again, especially in the hands of director Pete Travis, gets boring. Travis, along with writer Barry Levy, doesn't quite get the purpose of the Rashômon technique. Instead of using the repetition to continually add new information, Travis treats it like a gimmick, pulling away when the action starts to draw in the audience. The ultimate effect is alienation rather than excitement and that is never a good thing.
And by the time all is said and done, the film isn't even about the assassination attempt. It's much more about the redemption of Quaid's character. You can tell because the Rube Goldberg-style machinations involved in getting to the President not only make no sense, but also serve no point. We're conditioned, as American movie-goers, to automatically fill in the blanks for any middle eastern looking bad guy, but in Vantage Point, we get more than that stereotype and we don't know what to do with it. There are traitors, terrorists, corrupt officials and former special forces people involved in the plot and none of them have any reason for any action they take. I wish Levy had a point to make, somewhere, in this film. It would make things far more interesting.
To add further insult to injury, the performances are superb. Quaid hasn't looked this good in some time. His Secret Serviceman is filled with doubt and passion and longing to fix the mistakes of his past. He is supported by William Hurt as the most pro-active president we've seen this side of Jed Bartlett, and Forrest Whitaker as the American tourist who just happens to be in the right place at the right time. Beyond these obvious players, Sigourney Weaver steps in during the opening eight minutes, delivering a tough as nails portrayal that serves absolutely no purpose towards plot development. Amongst the non-Hollywood performers, Eduardo Noriega and Ayelet Zurer both give credible turns, enough so that I wouldn't be surprised if their agents start getting phone calls on the Monday after opening weekend.
When the ninety minutes are up, and we've seen the same span of time five times, everything works out the way it should. There are no surprises here, which is too bad. The potential to make something good out of this mess is huge, it's just a shame the filmmakers weren't up to the task.