It’s good to provide different points of view … but only if you have a clear reason for doing so.
Sadly, “Vantage Point,” director Pete Travis’s political thriller, doesn’t. The movie attempts to approach an ever-timely and ever-exploited basic plot – the assassination of the U.S. president and the subsequent search for the killer(s) – in a way that would not simply entertain the audience, but also inspire it to ponder the subjective nature of narration and the limitations of the first-person account. Admirable goal, indeed, but what comes out of it is an hour and a half of annoyingly repetitive and fractured storytelling, garnished with unmemorable lines, courtesy of screenwriter Barry Levy.
Here’s the basic premise: President Ashton (William Hurt) is assassinated at a global summit on terrorism in Spain, and his death is followed by many others after a bomb goes off in the same square. For the entire movie, the same events are depicted again and again, from the vantage point of different people, among whom are Secret Service agent Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid), CNN producer Rex Brooks (Sigourney Weaver) and even Howard Lewis (Forest Whitaker), an American tourist whose digital camera just might contain some important clues. Each time, a new piece of the puzzle falls into place, but as it does so, one wonders whether the whole narrative strategy has any purpose other than self-indulgence.
Unfortunately, it seems that the constant rewinding is an arbitrary decision adopted in order to make the movie more spectacular and, ahem, somewhat original. Once the actual story is revealed, it becomes obvious that there is no particular need for it to be structured in this way. It’s not one of those Lynchian narratives that could never be quite put together linearly; it’s just your average political action flick material. It’s not trying to make a profound statement on the reliability of first-person narration, either, or issue an artistic statement on the enormous creative potential behind experimentation with perspectives. Nope, “Vantage Point” just enjoys frustrating for the hell of it.
Also, while it’s good that the film keeps the viewer constantly guessing, it would be even better if the outcome was worth it. As it is, the storyline lacks the refined guile and slow, calculated pace which a more intelligent, less obviously blockbustery script would have delivered. Instead, it simply opts for the easier road towards confusion and leaves too many things unexplained, most notably the motivation behind the terrorists’ actions. Not surprisingly, when the assassin’s identity is inevitably uncovered, the sense of revelation and the “oooh, damn, NOW it all comes together” factor are simply missing. In the end, instead of feeling pleasantly brain-teased and challenged, one can, at best, decide that at least the car chases were sweet.
That they are. If there’s one thing the movie’s undeniably good at, it’s delivering thrills in the good ol’ action way: with a lot of bang. The fast-paced editing and dizzying camerawork keep you on the edge of your seat. “Vantage Point” might be largely pointless, but it sure isn’t boring.
The movie would’ve benefited from the talent of its stellar cast had it fully fleshed out their roles. Sigourney Weaver, who is very effective in her femme-in-command news director role, and Dennis Quaid, whose character and performance are both a notch above the average quality of “Vantage,” get lost amidst the general mess. Instead of shining through, they merely flicker behind a mist of mediocrity.
After all is said and done (several times), those of us expecting a stimulating cinematic puzzle will be disappointed with an iffy hodge-podge. It makes you want to send the “Vantage” crew a copy of “The Usual Suspects.” Maybe then they’ll see how it’s done.