Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Vantage Point - Review by Robert Duffin

Director: Pete Travis
Screenwriter: Barry L. Levy
Running Time: 90 mins
Certificate: 12A
Release Date: Out Now.

For a narrative device as famous as the multiple perspectives in Rashomon, it’s surprising how few times it’s been used in the fifty-eight years since it’s innovation. Tarantino employed it briefly in Jackie Brown and to an extent in Reservoir Dogs, and then of course there was The Usual Suspects, the dire Bruce Willis vehicle Basic and the dull fairy tale spoof Hoodwinked. Ostensibly the lesson to be learned is don’t take on the device lightly, and clearly the brains behind the much-delayed Vantage Point weren’t listening.

Here we follow a group of characters that are witness to the attempted assassination of the President of the United States (William Hurt) as he makes a public address at a peace summit in Spain, and of course things are not as they seem. There’s a liberal sprinkling of body doubles, double crossings and remote controlled desk fans utilised to tell this contrived tale that leaves you wondering which came first; the story or the gimmick? Instead of revealing layers of plot, the rewind button is used to show the expensive explosions from different angles and is eventually abandoned for the final twenty-minute car chase. Most puzzling is that the shifting perspective does not reveal the biggest twist; instead a character recollects events he clearly wasn’t present for. A true Kobayashi moment.

First time writer Barry L. Levy’s screenplay was clearly in need of a rewrite or at least a liberal edit. His characters are all one note; we have the secret service man back on the job after losing his nerve (Dennis Quaid), a tourist on holiday with marital problems (Forrest Whittaker), an agent coerced into working for the bad guys (Edgar Ramirez), and an apparently gormless cop (Eduardo Noriega) who was duped into bringing a bomb to the summit. Thankfully the quality of the cast manages to keep the script merely teetering on the brink of disaster.

Brit helmer Pete Travis, who worked with Paul Greengrass (United 93, Bourne Ultimatum) on the TV movie Omagh, tries to replicate his mentor’s success but his style is a little too slick and safe to truly bring us visceral thrills on that level. Also surprising, given his pedigree, is the complete lack of engaging politics on any level. The terrorists are nameless, their cause unknown, their plot shaky at best. Is it really acceptable to be so boneheaded with these issues? What’s most frustrating however is the potentially superior action film in Vantage Point that is so desperate to escape the clutches of Hollywood mediocrity. On paper a political conspiracy seen from multiple perspectives has so much potential for smarts and thrills, but despite brief moments where it manages to punch above its weight; Vantage Point is uniformly underwhelming.

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