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Vantage Point Gives Action Film Genre a Fresh Look

  • Stephen McGarvey Crosswalk.com Executive Editor
  • 2008 2 Feb
  • COMMENTS
<i>Vantage Point</i> Gives Action Film Genre a Fresh Look

DVD Release Date:  July 1, 2008
Theatrical Release Date:  February 22, 2008
Rating:  PG-13 (for sequences of intense violence and action, some disturbing images and brief strong language)
Genre:  Action/Thriller
Run time:  90 min.
Director:  Pete Travis
Actors:  Dennis Quaid, Matthew Fox, Forest Whitaker, William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Eduardo Noriega, Edgar Ramirez, Ayelet Zurer, Said Taghmaoui, Zoe Saldana, Bruce McGill

From time to time, films attempt to forsake chronology and tell their story out of order. A small group of these films, like Memento and Pulp Fiction, succeed in taking what would be an ordinary story line, and create a bit of intrigue by flouting convention.

While not an especially groundbreaking film like the aforementioned two, Vantage Point takes what would have been a forgettable thriller, and gives the audience a film to puzzle over. Such a film certainly takes advantage of the current popularity of “unravel the weird mystery by telling the story out of order” television shows like “Lost.”

The film portrays an assassination attempt on the President of the United States. President Ashton (William Hurt) arrives in Spain for a summit on the global war on terrorism. Assigned to protect him are Secret Service agents Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid) and Kent Taylor (Matthew Fox), their humorless, tough-guy personas firmly intact. Barnes, newly back on duty after sustaining injuries from an earlier attempt on Ashton’s life, is ready to prove he’s fit for duty. During a rally before the conference, Ashton is shot as he approaches the podium. Chaos ensues as Barnes and fellow agents quickly try to get control of the situation.

This might have been any other run-of-the-mill action movie, however, Vantage Point progresses chronologically. After giving the story from one person’s view, the film jumps back to the start to show what someone else sees. First the news crew, lead by the commanding producer Rex Brooks (Sigourney Weaver), sees the attack unfold on the monitors of their communications center. Then from the perspective of Barnes himself, steely and determined to keep his cool under pressure. Next we follow after a Spanish police officer (Eduardo Noriega) who seemly has some connection to the perpetrators. And then the lone American tourist (Forest Whitaker) with a video camera who is trying to figure out if he caught the attacker on film. And so it goes, with each new vignette, the movie retells the same chronological 20 minutes or so from a new perspective, adding new pieces to the puzzle with each go round.

You would expect that retelling the same event over and over would get a little tedious. To be sure, the cheesy back-track special effect followed by timestamp reminiscent of television’s “24” was completely unnecessary. (In my screening the audience simultaneously laughed and groaned with every rewind.) The editing, however, is superb and the intensity continues to build as the stakes get higher with each vignette.

In addition to one of the most white-knuckled car chases put on film in recent history, Vantage Point does an excellent job early on showing you how difficult it must be to protect a President. Staring into a screaming crowd of hundreds, maintaining focus while submerged in potential danger must be a nightmare for the handful of man assigned to take a bullet for their charge. These harrowing crowd scenes are incredibly effective.

Regrettably for the A-list actors here, such a high concept, plot-driven film leaves little opportunity for them to showcase their talent. We don’t really get more than one emotion out of each of them because, quite frankly, there isn’t much time. The folks who really shine, however, are the relative unknowns who portray the terrorists and innocents forced into the whole scheme.

Unlike many movies lately that deal with terrorism, the film wastes little time moralizing. If the story is to be faulted, it all ties up a little too neatly in the end. But for the price of a small amount of “belief suspension,” action movie fans will likely enjoy this electrifying thriller. So many action films work so much better on paper than on screen. Fortunately, the well executed Vantage Point keeps the intensity level high, giving its unusual plot device an impressive day in the sun.

CAUTIONS: 

  • Language/Profanity:  A scattering of profanity throughout. Lord's name taken in vain a few times.
  • Drugs/Alcohol:  None.
  • Sex/Nudity:  None.
  • Violence:  Plenty of mostly bloodless violence. We see the president shot several times as the assassination attempt is replayed. Bombings and their aftermath show little gore but many bodies. A bomb goes off inside a plaza crowded with people. Intense and destructive car chase scene. Many different time people are shot or shot at. A man running from the Secret Service is hit by a car on two different occasions. A confused child wanders on to a highway. Suicide bomber blows himself up in a hotel lobby. Several people killed or badly injured in brutal car crashes. A man is drugged and kidnapped.