Posted on July 1, 2008 at 8:00 am
A gimmicky thriller without much of a gimmick or many thrills, “Vantage Point” suffers, too, from being out of synch with its time. Its premise may be current — an assassination attempt at an anti-terrorism summit — but its tone is off. A good thriller — or even a good episode of “Law and Order” — uncovers our underlying fears, recognizes that they are closely tied to curiosity, and pushes them to the point of pleasurable fear and cathartic release. This film clumsily builds on the headlines with a simplistic story that, even told in mosaic bits and pieces is obvious and clunky, with big logical gaps. It would be more intriguing to see the same story told several times from different perspectives, each one adding another layer of information, if the underlying story was worthwhile. But this story of a terrorist attack at an anti-terrorism summit, is too thin to withstand the repetition. Instead of making it deeper and more complex, the retellings get tiresome and overblown.
We begin in the control room of a television network, with Sigourney Weaver as a tough, cynical news producer, telling on-site correspondent Angie Jones (Zoe Saldana) to keep her report crisp and ignore the subtleties and details — like the anti-American demonstrators. The President is in Spain, making a speech in honor of a new anti-terrorism agreement. And then there is a shooting and an explosion. Stop. Rewind. And we see the same events from the point of view of another character.
This time it is Dennis Quaid as Thomas Barnes, a Secret Service agent who has just returned to duty after he was shot protecting the President from an assassination attempt. He is jumpy, perhaps compromised, unsure of his judgment. There are so many people and it is hard to tell if any one of them is reaching into his pocket for a gun or just a cell phone. Shooting. Explosion. Rewind.
We go back and forth as Barnes does, seeing the events over and over through the footage captured by the network and the video camera owned by an American tourist (Forrest Whitaker) and from the points of view of a range of characters including a local cop with concerns about his girlfriend’s loyalty and the President himself, insulated by security but trying to maintain control.
The problem is that all that unraveling is not worth the pay-off, a not-very-surprising surprise and a not-very-exciting car chase. Because of the fractionated story-telling, we don’t spend enough time with any character to feel invested. It is hard to feel good about those who survive in light of the numbers of those who do not. And it is manipulative to place a child in jeopardy just to increase the tension. From my vantage point as an audience member, this movie is not worth watching.
Parents should know that this film has intense and graphic violence, including acts of terrorism, suicide bombing, assassination attempts, adults and a child in peril, and many characters injured and killed. Characters use brief strong language.
Families who see this movie should talk about how the style of story-telling helps — or does not help — to maintain the tension. How do we find the right balance between security for everyone and privacy of individuals?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Air Force One, The Parallax View, and In the Line of Fire.