Review: Deja Vu

I get that feeling I’ve seen this before. Or maybe not. Tony Scott’s 2006 thriller starring Denzel Washington is an enjoyable if messy affair.

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As the closing credits begin at the end of Deja Vu, a title appears commemorating the people of New Orleans for their ‘strength and enduring spirit.’ Clearly, the film alludes to those who lost their lives, and the many that tried to save life, after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. Yet, the film has more close ties to the unnatural disaster that appeared in New York on the 11th of September 2001, and that eternal question of ‘what if’. What if you could go back in time and stop those planes from taking off? The film shares the sentiments of other time travel movies such as Back To The Future, and more recently, Frequency and Timecop, but at its heart, it’s a quintessential American hero movie. It’s about facing adversity and challenging all the one holds sacred.

After a bomb explodes on a boat in New Orleans, ATF agent Doug Carlin (Washington) begins to investigate, finding some unexplainable ties between himself and one of the female victims. When he learns that she was found dead an hour before the explosion he begins to question the line of enquiry and the FBI invite him to help with their enquiries. He’s introduced to a new piece of technology that allows its viewers to see events as they occurred four and a half days prior. However, they can’t pause or rewind the footage and they can only view events four and a half days before the present day. Therefore, they have to wait until they can watch the footage of the exploding boat. Their job in the mean time is to decide where to look on the boat, and who to look for, as they only get one chance to get it right. But when Carlin realises they can influence the events in the past, stopping the tragedy before it happens becomes his prime objective.

There’s was a moment around the fifty minute mark where I felt the film was being far too complicated for its own good. Scott takes the influences of big brother, CCTV, and government spy satellites one step further from his own 1998 film Enemy Of The State. Here he depicts a way of seeing into the past and uses very specific scientific details to tell us just exactly how it works. However, the threat of total invasion of privacy is quite apparent in Enemy Of The State, the way the government watches the world is believable and based on fact. Deja Vu bends the rules slightly, taking fact and adding quite a lot of fiction.

Certainly when the film really gets going, it’s a roller-coaster of adventurism, explosions, bad guys, and car chases, but Scott never really sets his audience up for the fantasy aspect of his story. Suddenly we are asked to stretch are imagination from a hard-nosed police investigation (with the psychological angle of a cop seemingly breaking down) and a mysterious terrorist threat, to a time-travel fantasy about folding the space-time continuum, Einstein-Rosen bridges, worm holes, Wheeler Boundaries, and EM pulses. When Carlin asks, ‘What if there’s more than physics’, I’m pleading there isn’t. The problem is that it comes out of nowhere, and while it is a twist in the tale, the surprise element is extinguished my confusing science and the attempt to fuse reality with unreality.

It’s fundamental storytelling. Take for example, Jurassic Park which, setting aside all the marketing campaigns, began by showing us a caged beast attacking game keepers. It set-up what was to come. In Back To The Future, Robert Zemeckis filled the early part of the movie with ‘time’ metaphors, and in Frequency we are introduced to the mystical qualities of the Aurora Borealis and hearing old radio broadcasts. In Deja Vu, Scott throws in a few red-herrings (the film’s title is a clue, as is Carlin finding a voice recording left by himself, finger prints in a building he never knowingly went to, and a message seemingly addressed to himself) but doesn’t completely set-up the big, time-traveling jolt to the system, and even then, behind all the science, he can’t hide the odd plot hole. While you could argue the plot intricacies make for a more fulfilling second viewing, and in effect, directly set-up what is to come, the film simply does not prepare the viewer for its change of direction. Essentially, I wasn’t ready to suspend my disbelief so suddenly, and it takes some time for everything to position itself back into place.

However, when the movie settles back down, and you take on-board that essentially the film is about influencing events that happened four and half days ago in order to prevent tragedies in the future, there’s enough high-octane thrills to make you forget about any problems you might have with the film’s plot logic. Indeed, while I have reservations about the middle part of the film, the first fifty minutes is intriguing, while the last half hour is thrillingly eventful. A lot of the thanks have to go to Denzel Washington who provides another powerhouse performance, and beautifully grounds the fantastical with a very raw representation of a man desperate to save life.

Deja Vu might not be as polished as Scott’s Enemy Of The State, or as well-orchestrated as the director’s other collaboration with Washington on Man On Fire, but it’s frequently more enjoyable than Spy Game and Domino. It is at times a little over-complicated with a messy plot but it’s an entertaining action movie that never outstays its welcome.

Review by Daniel StephensSee all reviews

See director Tony Scott’s Top 10 Films here

Directed by: Tony Scott
Written by: Bill Marsilii, Terry Rossio
Starring: Denzel Washington, Val Kilmer, Bruce Greenwood, Matt Craven, James Caviezel, Paula Patton, Adam Goldberg
Released: 2006 / Genre: Sci-fi/Thriller / Country: USA / IMDB

Buy on DVD:
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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. le0pard13 Reply

    I’d agree with your fine review, Dan. It’s a fun mess of a film and I do enjoy watching it. Who’d have thought that Denzel and Scott would enjoy such a long collaboration. Well done.

  2. Jack Deth Reply

    Hi, Dan and company:

    ‘Deja Vu’ is not one of Mr. Washington’s or Mr. Scott’s best pieces of work. The plot seems all over the map. With a time travel paradox that appears weak and a Way Back Machine that should have darkened power grids all around the gulf. Though I did enjoy Jim Caviezel as the deluded bad guy and Val Kilmer as the FBI agent who knows more than he’s letting on.

  3. Evan Crean Reply

    At points the time travel elements do make things a bit messy. You’re right though that it gets so exciting, you tend to overlook some of the holes. I had a ton of fun with Deja Vu.

  4. ruth Reply

    I wasn’t wowed by this, but still it’s fun to watch Denzel. Plus it’s got James Caviezel playing a baddie post his Jesus Christ role, I bet he took this so he won’t be typecast, ahah.

  5. The Focused Filmographer Reply

    Your final paragraph sums up exactly what I thought too! Fine review here!

  6. Rodney Reply

    What a terribly messy film indeed. If only Tony Scott had focused more on the story and the characters than the camerawork (if you can even call the way this film is shot as “camerawork”) then Deja Vu might have been a better movie. Alas, it is not.

    Nice review, however, Dan.

  7. Jaina Reply

    Yep, you said it right. It was a bit of a mess of a film. I find it to be one of the more forgettable Scott/Washington films. I swear I was going through it in my head while reading your review and suddenly it turned into Man on Fire on an Unstoppable train.

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