Imagine if there had been eight people named Zapruder in Dallas, Texas on Friday, November 22, 1963 and you get the high concept of the new thriller Vantage Point—one catastrophic event, eight different viewpoints.
In the chaotic minutes after President Ashton (William Hurt) is shot while giving a speech at a global summit on the war terror in Spain, two secret service agents, Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid) and Kent Taylor (Mathew Fox), try and piece together what happened. Thus begins the movie’s deep debt to Rashômon as the attempted assassination of the president is told from five different perspectives, including American tourist Howard Lewis (Forest Whitaker), who, camcorder in hand, videotaped the whole thing and television producer Rex Brooks (Sigourney Weaver) who was producing a new piece on the summit.
First the good stuff. Vantage Point does a nice job of showing the awful suddenness in which violence can happen, and the terrible consequences of terrorism. Director Pete Travis stages the ferocious opening with gusto. As shots ring out and chaos reigns his camera conveys the intensity of the mass panic that follows. Jittery camera work effectively conveys how the bad guys can take advantage of the chaos they create to follow through with their plans. The first time through it’s a thriller, too bad it loses its oomph in repeated viewings.
The story, starting form the beginning rewinds and unspools from the point of view of the major characters. It’s a cool idea but one that is flawed in its execution. The horror of the assassination and the subsequent terror attack is blunted by the constant duplication until it loses all impact and simply becomes tiresome.
This kind of fractured storytelling is very difficult to pull off without boring the audience. It would have been interesting to see what more accomplished directors like Christopher Nolan, Alfonso Cuarón or even Quentin Tarantino, all of whom have experimented with nonlinear timelines, would have been able to do with this same material.
Amid the bombast, blood and bombs Vantage Point presents itself as an anti-war manifesto, including a reporter who blames US foreign policy for the amount of terrorism in the world and a president who seems to understand that the US isn’t loved all over the world and favors showing moral strength over military strength. It would be easier to accept these ideas from a movie that didn’t eventually dissolve into a violent shoot out with a body count that rivals Rambo.
Wonky politics aside Vantage Point does have some exciting moments, and enough political intrigue to keep conspiracy theorists happy, but its awkward construction drags the whole film down.