Vantage Point [Blu-ray]

Vantage Point seems to often get compared to Rashomon. Both movies show the same event from various points of view. While they use a similar plot device, unless Rashomon has a tacked-on car chase I missed, they really aren't comparable. As has been proven many times, a good idea doesn’t necessarily make a good movie. Vantage Point is the latest example of a good idea gone awry. It’s no disaster, but an interesting premise, topical subject, and top-notch cast add up to a pretty ho-hum experience.

The hook for Vantage Point is to show the apparent assassination of the President of the United States (William Hurt) from the various viewpoints of the participants and witnesses. The President is shot in front of a large crowd on an outdoor stage in Spain while attending an anti-terrorism conference. Two Secret Service agents (Dennis Quaid and Matthew Fox), an American tourist (Forest Whitaker), the television news director covering the speech (Sigourney Weaver), a Spanish police officer (Eduardo Noriega), his possibly cheating girlfriend (Ayelet Zurer), and others all see the same events from different locations. The action constantly rewinds and starts again from the same point in time but from a different point of view (or vantage point, if you will - get it?) As more and more of the story unfolds, we get treated to some plot twists and turns and “oh, that’s why he did that” moments.

None of it really adds up to much. The characters, with the possible exception of Quaid’s just-back-on-duty agent (who took a bullet for the President the year before) are not well defined and their motivations are murky at best. The terrorists who carry out the mayhem don’t have defined goals so judging their actions is not possible. Director Pete Travis and screenwriter Barry Levy seem to recognize this and let the ending devolve into a series of chases and confrontations with the rewinding plot device tossed aside. The action has moments of genuine excitement, but when you bill your movie as a clever thriller about perception, a guy shooting another guy who is hanging on his car window doesn’t contribute to that much.

Despite problems in the third act, the plot is fairly tight for the first sixty minutes or so. That is, the information presented in each section generally ties in well with what we already know and moves the story forward. Having new information build onto old during the same short time frame is a unique enough device to keep your interest, but Travis and Levy cheat a bit. Characters, especially Whitaker’s, often go against any sort of reason and logic simply to get them into a position to move the plot along. If this is how the Secret Service actually protects the president, I think it’s time to pass the job onto someone else.

It’s hard to fault the casting and the actors nearly save the movie by holding up the weak material for as long as possible. Whitaker, Hurt, and Quaid do things that don’t always make a lot of sense, but they do them professionally and it’s always nice to see pros at work. Even some of the lesser lights, like Noreiga and Edgar Ramirez, do the best they can with ill-defined characters. Some actors, especially Weaver, don’t have much going on once their viewpoint segment is done and come off as underused.

With a more capable director (this is Travis’ first Hollywood movie) and a script that doesn’t cop out in the end (this is Levy’s first script), this might have given a more satisfying movie. There are certainly worse ways to spend 90 minutes, but this feels too much like a missed opportunity. While Vantage Point has weaknesses, the Blu-ray presentation is flawless. The action looks great without anything to mar the sharp picture or booming sound. It would be nicer if this great transfer serviced a better film, but that happens sometimes.

The extras included on the Blu-ray are fairly substantial and a fan of the film will enjoy digging in a bit. The weakest extra is the director’s commentary by Pete Travis. Unfortunately, it’s just pretty damn boring. He speaks in a monotone voice and mostly breaks his comments into one of two subjects. He either notes, “so and so is the best person for this, there was no one else who could have played this part.” Really? If you hadn’t gotten Sigourney Weaver you would have shut down production? No Joan Allen or Meryl Streep? Seems unlikely and, of course, it’s slight hyperbole by Travis, but come on. His other comments are general plot narration of what we are seeing onscreen. Things like, “oh there’s a character, what’s he doing there, planting a seed for later with that.” At one point he says “the President has been shot” as we watch the President being shot. Gee, thanks.

Much better extras are the three featurettes totaling about 50 minutes combined that do the basic behind-the-scenes stuff. “Inside Perspective” includes cast and crew interviews and some production footage. It’s the most general and longest (at 27 minutes) of the featurettes. “Plotting the Assassination” is more directed towards the script, plot, and characters. Screenwriter Barry Levy is the primary interviewee and he discusses many of the challenges with this type of constantly replaying story. It does have some overlap with “Inside Perspective” but not enough to make it redundant. It’s also a little shorter, but at 16 minutes is still fairly substantial for a featurette. These extras are very similar to those typically made for major releases and don’t break any new ground, still they will be interesting to fans of the film or the actors involved. They are also presented in HD.

The third featurette is more specific and presented in SD. The seven minute “Coordinating Chaos” is primarily concerned with the stunts. The stunt coordinator and director discuss the various action sequences, including several bombs, a few shootouts, and the obligatory car chase. For the number of times the cast and crew mention the intricate plot, this movie has a lot of action and highlighting this is a nice touch.

A throwaway misleading named extra is the 45 second item called “Surveillance Tapes: Outtakes.” This is just a gag with director Travis introducing a supposed deleted scene. It’s actually Travis himself performing in an action scene done by Edgar Ramirez in the film. It’s stupid and not particularly funny. The title on the box may make you think there are deleted scenes or real outtakes included, but there are not. All the good stuff is up on the screen apparently.

While the Blu-ray extras match-up with those on the DVD release, there is one Blu-ray exclusive; "Vantage Viewer: GPS Tracker.” This allows the viewer to see what other characters are doing during the time that their portion of the story isn’t being shown. So if you are wondering how you match up Dennis Quaid’s actions while Forest Whitaker is talking to the little girl, now you can see. It is very confusing if you haven’t already seen the film, but turns out to be kind of a cool extra once you have the basic plot down.

The Blu-ray does have a lot going for it and should be a no brainer for anyone who saw and enjoyed the movie in the theater. If you didn’t see it and aren’t sure about picking this up then the extras do somewhat compensate for the less than stellar movie. If you’re a fan of any of the main stars or of thrillers in general, you might want to take a chance but don’t say I didn’t warn you.