When you hear that a film has been sitting on the shelf for a couple of years (since 2006, apparently), certain reactionary red flags go off in your head. Of course, the makers of the new political thriller, Vantage Point, could argue that it was the subject matter, not sloppy filmmaking or underdeveloped characters, that required some temporal displacement. After all, the narrative revolves around the attempted assassination of the U.S. President at an anti-terrorism summit in Spain. The argued novelty of writer Barry Levy's script and director Pete Travis
' approach is the Rashomon-styled multiple perspective of the participants. We view this event from every possible point of view except a logical -- or entertaining -- one.
During a high powered public meeting between the United States and several Arab nations, President Ashton (William Hurt
) is seemingly felled by an assassin's bullet. Seconds later, a bomb goes off in the square. While Secret Service agents Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid
) and Kent Taylor (Matthew Fox
) try to piece together the clues, camera-toting bystander Howard Lewis (Forest Whitaker
) believes he captured the entire event, including the shooter, on tape. Similarly, a local police detective (Eduardo Noreiga
) assigned to the mayor believes he knows who did it as well. There are ties to a local insurgency and Middle Eastern influences. But that's just the superficial version of what happened. Once everyone's vantage point is explored, the truth becomes warped and quite deadly. Article continues below
With a plot so knotty and twisted that pretzel makers would worship it, Vantage Point promises much more than it can ever rationally deliver. Taking an explosive 20-minute action sequence involving threats to world leaders, secret cabals, and unexpected alliances, British TV helmer Travis hopes to fashion a clean, lean JFK riff, complete with conflicting stories and anti-American sentiments. The present policies of the Bush Administration are slammed again and again here as reporters and administrative officials lament/extol the "shoot first, diplomacy a distant second" beliefs that, apparently, have led to this reactionary retaliation. There are moments which are very heavy-handed in their indirect criticism, as when a hawkish Cabinet member (Bruce McGill) tries to muscle the Commander in Chief into bombing Morocco.
It's not the only odd moment in a movie filled with frequent surrealism. We learn that ever since Reagan, the Secret Service has supposedly used doubles to keep the President out of danger. In practice, the comment feels like nothing more than an excuse for a bit of awkward screenplay subterfuge. Coincidences also reign supreme. Whitaker befriends a Spanish mother and her little daughter before the chaos ensues. Guess who ends up directly in the line of last act fire... and who's in hot pursuit to save her? Happenstance is so rampant in Vantage Point that it should get a production credit. Even in the smallest interconnected community, there wouldn't be this much telltale bending of fate.
Yet it's repetition that really undermines this movie. Aside from a cracking car chase as part of the drawn-out finale, the revisiting of the crime over and over again provides little suspense. Indeed, the only thing it does is frustrate the audience, especially when characters crow "ah ha!" at some hidden piece of information just before the situation starts to rewind and restart. With many of these revelations bordering on the ridiculous (including one ID switch that seems impossible, given the ability to do background checks), Vantage Point violates the first rule of a thriller. It forgets to keep the viewer at least partially in the loop. From our own outside-looking-in perspective, things don't seem so pulse pounding. More like forehead slapping.