Vantage Point

In Vantage Point, an action movie masquerades as an intelligent mystery, and nothing is really what it seems to be. Normally I’d be opposed to watching a terrorist attack played over and over and over again, but that’s what the movie does for its first sixty minutes or so. It does so under the pretense of showing us the attack from different perspectives as a way of uncovering what’s happening, but all it’s really doing is introducing us to all of the movie’s major players before abandoning it’s multiple perspective conceit and launching into a big, no holds barred, car chase finish filled with coincidence.

It stars, among others, Dennis Quaid, Matthew Fox, and Forest Whitaker. Quaid and Fox are secret service agents assigned to protect the president (William Hurt) while he makes a speech in Spain. Quaid is the old agent whose lost is nerve and probably should have retired, and it’s the kind of role Dennis could probably have pulled off in his sleep. Whitaker is an American tourist, who happens to be in the crowd with a camcorder when the president is suddenly shot, and for no apparent reason gets it into his head that the best way to help the Secret Service is to chase after them on foot with his camcorder. It’s a bizarre decision, one of many which the movie pursues simply because it’s a movie and they needed an excuse to get these people where they want them for the aforementioned, guns blazing finale.

The movie introduces each character one at a time, following them right up until the attack and then shortly thereafter. Then it stops, literally rewinds and shows us the same thing from a new character’s perspective, following that character until he too reaches a predetermined cut off point. At the end, everyone is in the same place and Vantage Point abandons its gimmick and simply lets fly.

Aside from that gimmick, it’s a pretty standard case of “save the president”, and Vantage Point pulls that off admirably. It’s consistently taut and intense. Sometimes the specifics of the chase get a little silly, but it’s largely entertaining, and only becomes even more so once the movie stops rewinding and simply starts going. The movie’s script asks little of its actors, except to stand around looking determined and grim. It’s almost like a vacation for someone as accomplished as Whitaker, who normally makes his living playing deeply troubled dictators or tackling roles that might earn him an Oscar. He and everyone else involved in the film is good, but they ought to be in something so simple.

If there’s anything to complain about, besides the script’s occasional dependence on coincidence and unrealistic behavior, it’s that the movie’s vantage point gimmick serves no real purpose. It’s there because the script is too lazy to weave all its characters together into one narrative, and not because they’ve thought of some unique and interesting way to tell this story. It works, but Vantage Point would have worked just as well told traditionally, maybe even better. Sure the movie's multiple viewpoint contrivance is just an excuse to get to a car chase, but it's a good car chase.