Directed by: Pete Travis
Written by: Barry Levy
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Matthew Fox, Forest Whitaker, Bruce McGill, Édgar Ramírez, Saïd Taghmaoui, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, William Hurt
Released: 2008 / Genre: Action/Adventure / Country: USA / IMDB
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This review contains minor spoilers…
Dennis Quaid has always been an actor I’ve admired. His emotion is right their in his face – in the jagged contours of rugged skin and eyes that can look straight through you. Since he lost the pretty-boy shine of his 1979 underappreciated classic Breaking Away, and a little later the rightly unappreciated Jaws 3, he’s been one of Hollywood’s most dependable assets. However, often the films themselves haven’t stood up to his understated stature. Indeed, if it wasn’t for his output in 2000 (Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic and Gregory Hoblit’s Back To The Future-like Frequency) many wouldn’t even know who he is. It’s a shame then, given high expectations from an energetic trailer and promise shown previously by director Pete Travis, that Vantage Point has to be shelved under Patriotic Pap with all the other vacuous Hollywood actioners of the past few years.
Essentially, Vantage Point fails because it negates to recognise the inherent criticism of its narrative is also a criticism of itself. We are presented different viewpoints of the same event – beginning, not arbitrarily in a newsroom – evidently showing that perspective can really affect opinion and knowledge of an event. That in itself isn’t particularly profound, but in terms of the media (especially the U.S networks such as Fox), it’s something worthy of investigation. However, director Pete Travis quickly forgets his opening ten minutes, finding more satisfaction in glossing over a cliched and particularly convoluted plot with flashbacks to different characters. That’s where we find the root of the problem. Vantage Point may be unique for the first half-hour (it’ll suck you in with its quick pace and fast-editing) but the narrative extravagance wears off. You take the film at a stripped-down, bare-bones level, and it becomes an overblown movie, that is at times confusing and frequently makes little sense.
The plot concerns the American president’s visit to Spain for a public meeting regarding world terrorism. Unfortunately, or should that be ironically, the president gets shot twice from a sniper secreted in one of the nearby buildings. An explosion is heard and then another huge blast destroys the podium where the president was addressing the crowd. The initial pandemonium after the shooting is turned into utter devastation. We see this same sequence played out from several viewpoints – the GNN news team and their cameras (with Sigourney Weaver in charge), the secret agent guarding the president (Dennis Quaid), an onlooker and his video camera (Forest Whitaker), a Spanish police office (Eduardo Noriega), and eventually getting to the president himself (William Hurt).
I didn’t have a problem with the repeated narrative but I did have issue with the way it was used. The first half hour is tense and exciting but ultimately unfulfilling. Travis hardly gives us a political thriller with any bite, so the next best thing would be at least a critical evaluation of the all-too powerful U.S. media. Maybe how such carefully constructed news, based on bias, political and commercial agendas, affects mass audience, told through Hollywood action and suspense. But no, we get red-herrings, the usual patriotism, and the same kind of mass audience manipulation seen on the likes of Fox news. When the film reverts back to the beginning for the fourth time you can’t help but hope something else will happen, and although each character’s view gives us something new, it’s insignificant. That’s because the film’s biggest twist (‘twist’ being far too generous a word) is held back until halfway through when we shift further back in time to the president’s viewpoint.
In terms of twists – yes, it takes you by surprise – but it doesn’t treat the audience with any respect. If you’re going to show different viewpoints starting with your basic U.S. news network team with all their cameras and a reporter complaining of censorship, you’re setting precedence for the rest of the film. That being, given all the perspectives of an event, only then can you formulate a true meaning from it. Getting one perspective may be clouded in judgement, coloured by prejudice, and so on. The film doesn’t simply offer us all angles, allowing us to generate opinion, it provides us information in a specific way, allowing plot details to come out and therefore placing the audience in the events as the director wants you to see and hear them. Okay, so aside from the manipulative hand of the director (it’s a film, we expect to go from A to B to C, from the first act to the second to the third), Travis holds back on perhaps the most important perspective of all – that being the president himself. What we find out essentially – without giving it away – is that, yet again, human life can be easily discarded as long as someone stands in the way of a bullet heading the president’s way. This precarious tone didn’t sit right with me but it certainly wasn’t the only thing from the president’s viewpoint that failed. What you learn in literature is that red-herrings are fun but you shouldn’t hide something from the audience that the characters already know. I’d forgive this if (because we as an audience are inherently sided with the ‘good-guys’ we wouldn’t know what the ‘bad-guys’ know) the film didn’t use this as the most important aspect of the plot and indeed, the whole set-up for the film’s finale. However, it does, and therefore it’s one of the film’s major downfalls.
Perhaps the most telling reason why Vantage Point cannot be considered anything more than a letdown is the ending. Simply, the finale is too far-fetched. The audience is asked to suspend its disbelief for a film that has prided itself on documentary realism (Travis’ trademark handheld camerawork) and a sort of honest depiction of terrible, possibly real life events. First off, we have to accept that Dennis Quaid’s car can withstand a side-on crash and still manage to travel at speeds in pursuit of his target. We then have to accept that our culprit (I’m going to issue a spoiler warning right here, which will be in effect until the end of the paragraph!), having gone to all the trouble to set the whole assassination up (clearly proving he has little regard for human life), will swerve to miss a little girl standing in the road thus turning his own car over and thwarting his plans. In addition, Quaid’s car just so happens to crash fifty yards away, and in the midst of several smashed vehicles, he heads right for Bad Guy Number 1’s, opens the door and low and behold, case solved.
I think Pete Travis’ film’s ability to masquerade as something more than it really is, is the cause of my distaste. After all, as a piece of Hollywood fluff, it doesn’t do a lot wrong. It’s very quickly paced, doesn’t outstay its welcome with a running time around ninety minutes, and features some great character actors. Although I didn’t feel Forest Whitaker excelled, he’s still a wonderful talent, and there’s some lovely moments between him and a little girl before and after the shooting and explosions take place. Said Taghmaoui is also strong in his role but he doesn’t quite hit the sadistic unease of his Iraqi soldier in Three Kings, and that chilling speech about Michael Jackson’s face. Stand-out, as mentioned, has to be Dennis Quaid who’s like an old west gunslinger that has hung up his boots but come out of retirement for one last showdown. In the right role, which he definitely is here, all the lines on his face speak a thousand words and a hundred stories. In support, Sigourney Weaver plays the controlled TV news director who loses her rag when all hell breaks loose, but it’s a shame she isn’t more prominent.
Review by Daniel Stephens – See all reviews