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Sony Pictures Home Entertainment / 2008 / 90 Minutes / PG-13
Street Date: July 1, 2008
The age-old device of telling a story from different points of view in film dates back to Akira Kurosawa’s classic Rashomon. When done in the proper context, it can really provide an elevated level of suspense and intrigue. I’ve always found these films particularly fascinating, not only in their ability to gradually reveal plot details layer-by-layer, but also in my trying to catch potential flaws in the sequence of events. If everything seems to be at least possible, even if the events are a bit far-fetched, the device can become more than just a gimmick in the right hands. Some of the better examples that come to mind are Brian De Palma’s underrated Blow Out and Tom Tykwer’s superb German import, Run Lola Run.
In this political thriller titled Vantage Point, an assassination attempt on the President of the United States is told through eight different points of view, each providing a unique twist on some of what we’ve seen before. The movie begins rather routinely with a Global Network News (GNN) crew preparing for a live broadcast the President’s appearance at a terrorism summit in Spain. GNN producer Rex Brooks (Sigourney Weaver) is busy setting up camera coverage and haggling with an inexperienced reporter who likes to editorialize during her segments when the motorcade carrying President Ashton (William Hurt) arrives. Everything seems to be going according to plan, although Rex finds it curious that Secret Service Agent Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid), who had been on sick leave after taking a bullet for the President, is now back on duty.
Barnes and fellow agent Kent Taylor (Matthew Fox) are positioned near the stage where the President is about to speak, keeping a keen eye on their surroundings, when shots ring out and President Ashton goes down. During the ensuing chaos, the President is rushed into an ambulance while Barnes tackles a suspicious man who rushes the stage. While attempting to determine where the shots came from, Barnes also notices a man with a video camera in the audience. After viewing some of his footage, he realizes someone has also planted a bomb under the stage, which then goes off creating even more havoc.
Backtracking some twenty-three minutes earlier before the whole thing began, the point-of-view then switches to Agent Barnes as he prepares to accompany the President in his motorcade. This being his first outing since taking a bullet for the Commander-in-Chief, he’s understandably a little nervous. Agent Taylor, who arranged for this assignment, assures him he’s ready to get back to work. While much of the same story is repeated, Agent Barnes notices other things that raise little red flags about the events taking place, the most telling of which is a moment when he enters the GNN broadcast truck after the explosion and sees something disturbing on a playback videotape.
Speaking of videotapes, that man Barnes spotted with the HD camcorder in the crowd is named Howard Lewis (Forest Whitaker) and his point-of-view is next, revealing some curious people in the crowd including a little girl and her mother and a man who seems overly inquisitive about what Lewis is taping. Lewis also zooms in on another odd couple that seems to be having a bit of a lover’s spat just before things go awry. We later shift to the point-of-view of that suspicious man Barnes tackled when he rushed the stage; the man turns out to be a police officer working for the mayor’s office. He’s also somehow connected to that strange couple Lewis spies through his viewfinder and ends up becoming an important link to the events that follow the assassination attempt.
Without revealing too much more, we eventually get to see things unfold through the President’s point-of-view – which leads to one of the film’s most interesting plot twists – and also through the eyes of one of the assassins and his co-conspirators. As I mentioned earlier, telling a story in this format can sometimes lend itself to lapses in logic or situations that seem highly implausible, even if they are at least possible. If there’s one place where Vantage Point falters, it’s during the big climax sequence where the majority of the eight disparate storylines are conveniently intersected at one moment in time that’s supposed to make perfect sense. To be honest, even though it did seem a bit implausible, I still enjoyed the ride while it lasted and was thankful that unlike so many other films of this ilk, it managed to get the job done in a brisk ninety minutes.
Well-made and superbly edited by Stuart Baird (Casino Royale), the film boasts a fine ensemble cast including Dennis Quaid, who carries the brunt of the movie; William Hurt, who becomes much more central to the plot after the halfway mark; and the always-great Forest Whitaker, who begins as an innocent bystander but becomes a lynchpin for everything that follows. While Sigourney Weaver is also good in the opening sequence, she pretty much disappears from the movie after that point. Director Pete Travis, a TV veteran who previously worked with Paul Greengrass on Omagh, makes a fine feature film debut, keeping things moving at a brisk pace without losing track of the multiple storylines.