The last time I could use "smart" to describe a Tony Scott
movie, a bath-robed Will Smith
was dodging satellites and thwarting conspirators in the taut Enemy of the State. The ready-made blockbuster pushed the envelope of technological surveillance as it spun a textured man-on-the-run mystery. Having Smith, Gene Hackman, and Jon Voight
on hand certainly helped.
Scott resumes his techno tricks for Déjà Vu, a police procedural with science-fiction tools that improves longstanding stakeout methods as an investigator works to solve a volatile crime. Article continues below
The cop, ATF agent Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington
, impressive as always), arrives at a New Orleans harbor where terrorists have exploded a ferry boat, killing more than 500 military officers and civilians. Carlin's investigation uncovers the charred remains of Claire Kuchever (Paula Patton
), an apparent bomb victim whose body, we learn, was discovered down-river minutes before the boat blew.
That's when things get interesting. A team of agents, led by Val Kilmer
and Adam Goldberg
, approaches Carlin asking for help. They're using a government-funded surveillance system that permits them to see four days into the past. The given explanation uses wormholes and manipulation of the space-time continuum (no, this isn't The Matrix), but the how is less important to the story than the why.
The investigators can't manipulate the timeline, they can only observe (and record) the past as they search for clues. Carlin directs them to Kuchever, the loose end in his ongoing case. Pressed for time, the agents experiment by sending a written warning to the past. When that fails, they contemplate sending a human volunteer to stop the bombing.
Bill Marsilii's screenplay (touched up by veteran script doctor Terry Rossio) makes up its time-warping rules as it goes. First, the team only can monitor subjects in a given range. Later, Carlin can track his chief suspect (Jim Caviezel
) across town so long as he drives a Hummer with a portable time-manipulation rig. Far-fetched is a generous term, but it makes for some bang-up stunts, and Déjà Vu more than entertains as the manhunt connects the past with present day.
Déjà Vu flirts with a very serious subplot, though the reference is subtle and easy to overlook. For all its masochistic violence and blaring guns, the story finds its tension in a philosophical conundrum -- if you could communicate with someone who was about to be killed, would you risk everything to warn and possibly rescue them? The question takes on new meaning with the film's New Orleans setting, the hurricane-ravaged region still devastated after warnings went unheeded. Whether intentional or not, the subtext gives Carlin's predicament an unexpected but appreciated weight.
As for Scott, the director reeled off a string of disappointments after Enemy, including the convoluted Spy Game and the awful one-two punch of Man on Fire and Domino. This film puts him back on track, but only a time machine looking toward the future can confirm whether or not he'll stay there.