A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 354 – Vantage Point

Vantage Point – February 17th, 2011

I’d totally forgotten about this movie. Not that I’d seen it before, but once Andy described it I remembered seeing ads for it and thinking it was a neat idea. The whole concept is a story told over and over from different points of view, each one telling a little more, taking you a little further. And I love seeing stories from other points of view. When I was in fourth grade we read two books: A Dog on Barkham Street and The Bully of Barkham Street, both telling the same story, but from two totally different characters’ perspectives. I’ve been hooked ever since. So the gimmick here tickles me. Yet I never got around to seeing it and I’d been clueless as to what it was whenever I scrolled past it on our list.

The movie starts off with a news van. Sigourney Weaver as the producer, Rex, is calling the shots, ordering cameras around and lackeys in the van to find archive footage or switch views. We meet young reporter Angie, played by Zoe Saldana (seriously we have so many movies with her – it makes me happy) and we learn the set-up for the plot: We’re in Spain. There’s an anti-terrorism conference going on and the US president is about to arrive. The plaza is full of people. The president shows up, a speech is made and then he’s shot. He’s shot and a bomb goes off, and then another and there’s Angie, on the ground until Rex shuts down the feed and we’re spun back twenty-three minutes to follow someone else. This is how the movie works, and I like that it starts in the news van, with the crew spinning the footage back and forth, playing with a variety of views and perspectives, looking at what came before while looking at what’s happening. It’s a sly little metaphor for the whole movie and it sets the stage nicely.

As we follow Dennis Quaid’s Agent Barnes, a secret service agent who protected the president the year before we learn more about what happened out in the plaza. We see moving curtains, shots fired, a man filming it all. We see that he sees something, but we never see what he sees. We go back again and follow Eduardo Noriega as Enrique, a Spanish police officer. From him we get a glimpse of a larger assassination plot than a lone shooter. We get his girlfriend and a stranger and a meeting in an underpass. Go back again and we’re with Forest Whitaker as Howard Lewis, an American tourist who’s been filming everything, catching the odd movements and flapping curtains, a bag tossed under the platform in the plaza, things no one was supposed to notice. Back again and we’re with William Hurt as the president. And again and we get the leader of the terrorists responsible for the whole scheme. And this is where the problems start for me.

By the time we reach the terrorist leader we know a lot about what’s going on. We know where one bomb came from and we know there’s a little twist to the president’s presence. We know Lewis caught some stuff on camera that will help out eventually. We know there’s a little girl lost and foolishly trying to cross a highway. But now that we’ve seen those events from a variety of viewpoints, the movie’s run out of things to show us without going wildly off concept. Instead of building a story that could be unfolded bit by bit within the confines of the gimmick the movie created a story that begins that way and then unravels. We meet the terrorist leader and suddenly it’s not just his POV. It’s the sniper and Barnes and the president and Lewis and the little girl and Enrique and it flips back and forth between them all just like any typical action thriller.

I like the concept. I like the concept a lot. I enjoyed a lot of the ways things were done and switched around. I liked all the different people involved and I liked their performances. I liked the twist during the president’s POV section and where it leads from there. I liked that there was an attempt right from the outset to keep tension going. That there were bits and pieces at the beginning that only get explained much later. But I have some issues with how it’s all put together at the end. There’s some magic tech and the skipping between multiple POVs at once like a typical movie instead of the movie’s conceit. And I had the big twist figured out from the second POV. And as soon as it’s revealed the rest of the movie is just a big car chase to the end we’ve seen several times. Then too, while we know five or six characters very well, thanks to getting their points of view, the rest of the characters are ciphers, all form and no substance or reason to care about them. I wish they’d found a way to keep unfurling the bits and pieces. I wish it had stuck to its concept better and closer. I wish we’d gone out with a note about Angie. Because there’s some cool stuff in there, and some good performances and a not-bad-but-not-revolutionary assassination plot that had a lot of twists and turns to suit the concept. And it just couldn’t quite follow through. It just had to have that Hollywood car chase climax ending and it just doesn’t fit.

February 17, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Vantage Point

February 17, 2011

Vantage Point

I bought this movie because I was intrigued by the concept. It’s a movie with a nifty hook, and I wanted to see how the film makers handled it. The idea behind the movie is that it is a sort of action/thriller/mystery about an attempted assassination of the President of the United States. The twist is that instead of just showing us the events taking place the movie follows several characters through the same events. We get to see the story several times. Each time we see the same things happening but from a slightly different point of view, and we learn a little bit more about what’s actually going on.

Our cast of characters include a grizzled and dour Secret Service officer who has only just been reinstated one year after he took a bullet for the President, a wide-eyed tourist with a hend held video camera, a Spanish police officer, a television news director, a young girl, a group of terrorists, and the President himself. The whole concept of the movie is that it’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it adventure story full of plot twists and strange co-incidences. There are car chases, foot chases, explosions and many, many shootings (including of course the President.)

Unfortunately the movie can’t quite keep up with the potential of its concept. For one thing there’s the need to have a cool new twist with each subsequent re-play of the major events. At the start there are a number of mysteries set up for which you know the answers will be revealed in later go-rounds. Why, for example, do the Secret Service members lose contact with their control center? What was the other explosion before the big one where the stage erupted? What did Secret Service member Barnes see which made him race off at the end of the second section? But twist after twist gets piled on to the plot and it begins to feel pretty badly tangled.

Another problem is that the timing of events feels wrong on subsequent viewings. Things which happen in pretty close sequence from one perspective have long conversations wedged in between them when seen from a different view point. I suppose this could be a kind of cool commentary on the perception of time and how what seems like instants for one person seems like ages to another, but it doesn’t actually feel like that. It just feels off, because you’re waiting for something to happen because you saw it happen in an earlier segment and it doesn’t happen when you expect it to. The movie begins to feel like a jigsaw puzzle put together wrong. The pieces don’t quite fit but they are being wedged into place and pounded in so that they are MADE to fit.

Yet another problem is the geography of events in the movie. By necessity all the main characters have to end up in the same place by the end for the big climax, because that’s the sort of movie this is, but it doesn’t just feel forced to have them all arrive at the same point; it feels absolutely absurd. We’re told that the overpass where everything concludes is seven blocks from the plaza where the shooting first took place. Two characters arrive there after a lengthy foot chase. Three more arrive after a spectacular car chase that goes on for at least fifteen minutes. Several more are in an ambulance which appears to be going in pretty much a straight line. Most absurdly of all there’s a lost five year old girl who simply wanders the seven blocks in question looking for her mother – in the same time it took the two other characters to get there running full tilt. It’s when little Anna shows up there that I simply found myself giving up on the movie. I can see that it’s trying really hard to be clever, bringing all these different people together through a series of unbelievable co-incidences, but it actually comes off feeling kind of silly.

My problem is that I really want to like this movie. It has an astonishing cast of great actors all doing their best to sell the drama. Sigourney Weaver, Zoe Saldana, William Hurt, Dennis Quaid, Forest Whitaker… these are all A-list stars. It has a great concept which brings me in and makes me curious to see just what exactly is going on. If it had been done right it would have been the kind of movie you have to watch again to catch all the clues and understand how everything fits together. As it is, though, it doesn’t fit together. I don’t need to see it again to know that.

The unbelievably complicated terrorist plot at the heart of the movie makes no sense. Several people involved in the plot have as little idea what’s going on as we the viewers do. The tourist and little girl seem almost thrown in at the last minute and aren’t part of the story at all. The action is fun and the car chase is really spectacular (it made me want to watch Ronin) but it’s so eye-rollingly implausible that it loses its impact. If this were just a straight up action movie about the unstoppable Secret Service agent on a mission (which is what the latter half of the movie is) I would have been able to hand-wave the implausibility, but it pitches itself as a tense serious drama and just doesn’t deliver. There could be a really cool movie that used this concept of different points of view (sort of Rashamon but with more political intrigue and less mystery) but this movie is not it.

February 17, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment