Deja Vu is how the French described the sensation of seeing or experiencing something you feel you've already seen or experienced before. Movies have created all sorts of mystical contexts or explanations for it (one of my particular favorites came from The Matrix) but Tony Scott's latest offering has a new take on the concept. For his new film he tosses in a heavy dose of sci-fi to give the phenomenon of Deja Vu an intriguing techno-edge. There's also plenty of good humor and a twist of romance, but make no mistake: it's first and foremost an action thriller and Scott, as usual, delivers.
It's Fat Tuesday in post-Katrina New Orleans and people are out in full force to have a good time. A riverboat ferry chock full with hundreds of celebratory Navy sailors and their families leaves the dock, heading down the mighty Mississippi en route to the bash of a lifetime. Not long after getting underway the boat erupts in a massive explosion, killing most on board and re-igniting in its wake a nation's fears about terrorism in the homeland.
Enter ATF agent Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington), one of many assigned to find the people responsible for the blast. Despite the chaos and emotion swirling around him, he coolly sets about the task of picking up a trail of clues. There's not much of significance until the body of a beautiful woman, Claire Kuchever (Paula Patton), washes up on shore. Though she's badly burned, evidence suggests it wasn't from the bomb. Convinced that her mysterious murder is tied to the bombing (and finding himself somewhat smitten with the tenderness in her deceased face), Carlin sets out to solve her death, expecting to find his bomber at the end of the same trail.
Carlin's not long into the hunt before an FBI Agent (Val Kilmer) approaches and conscripts him into a special investigative team. Agent Pryzwarra and his crew have developed a scientific tool that lets them see into the past. Not just anytime , but exactly four days and six hours into before. "It's a steady stream from the past," Pryzwarra explains, "there is no rewind." The government sends this special technology to help investigate major crimes. They need Carlin's expertise and keen eye to help them avoid missing any important details as they try to piece together the facts by watching past events unfold before them.
If you could imagine that time travel was possible for Back To The Future, you'll have no problem believing it here. The lead scientists on Pryzwarra's team, (Adam Goldberg and Erika Alexander) play Doc Brown to Carlin's Marty as they discuss the various technical and moral implications of what they're involved in. All that wordplay results in plenty of techno-babble to make the geeks happy, but doesn't interfere with the plot or action. Far more important (and enjoyable) than the technology is watching Carlin trying to solve the crime by following clues in the present while simultaneously watching how those clues came about four days in the past. There's enough detail throughout to keep you thinking back and trying to remember what you did or didn't see and how it all fits into the big picture.
Though I'm getting a little weary of seeing Denzel play the part of the confounded cop willing to break all the rules to solve a crime, he brings a fresh angle to the role this time around. Much of that can be attributed to his sparkling supporting cast, including a wonderfully disturbing villain played by Jim Caviezel. Cinematographer Paul Cameron's method for filming Tony Scott's movie is another treat. He makes hunting for visual clues within the film a pleasure, using the camera to serve as your guide to a feast of subtle and not-so-subtle hints along the way.
Even though the two hour long movie could easily have continued on into a third hour without losing its audience, there seems to be a lot of broken moments in the film. I have a suspicion that the suits Tony Scott a cut off time, forcing him to trim out parts that aren't vital but certainly help the complicated story flow more easily. If a two and a half hour director’s cut rolls out on DVD don’t be surprised.
It's rare that a good action thriller so smoothly incorporates sci-fi elements without turning into a sci-fi movie. Deja Vu pulls it off nicely with just a hint of confusion to keep you on your toes. It may not be real Deja Vu, but the film will leave you wanting to go back and experience it again.