© 2008 Ray Wong
Five years since the Iraq War, American filmmakers are finally questioning whether violence is the answer to the conflict in the Middle East. Last year we have a slew of war- and terrorism-related movies such as The Kingdom and Rendition that met with box office disappointment -- perhaps Americans are not ready to face those questions yet. However, Vantage Point is a thriller that hits closer to home, with an assassination of the President at the core.
Security is tight when President Ashton (William Hurt) attends the global war on terror summit in Spain. Agent Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid), who took a bullet for the President just a year prior, is back on the job. Unfortunately, a gunman successfully shoots the President and sets off a bomb in the town square, killing many. Trying to make sense what happened, Barnes searches for clues with the help of TV news producer Rex Brooks (Sigourney Weaver). Then he sees something that makes him realize something is very wrong.
Meanwhile, Howard Lewis (Forest Whitaker) is a divorcee who captures crucial information on video in the middle of the mayhem. He then witnesses a brutal killing of a Spanish cop under an overpass. What is happening? Who are behind the assassination and what do they want?
Dennis Quaid (Smart People) is in top form here as Agent Barnes. After playing the President in American Dreamz, he gets to play a secret agent who protects the President. He has good intensity and the physicality for the job. He also succeeds in playing the role with the depth that a role like this don't normally calls for. Matthew Fox (We Are Marshall) has a relatively smaller but pivotal role as Barnes' partner. However, his role is so underwritten that he doesn't really have much to work with.
Forest Whitaker (The Great Debaters) gets to play a gentle man again, a character caught in the middle of something big and is forced to rise to the occasion. If Quaid's role is the soul, Whitaker's is the heart of the action-packed film and he gives a winning performance. William Hurt (Mr. Brooks) also gives a solid performance as President Ashton, a man who must make tough decisions as his life is put in danger. Sigourney Weaver (Infamous) has relatively less to do as the news producer, who really has nothing to do with the plot.
Writer Barry Levy (Kung Fu) has weaved together a taut thriller with an interesting Rashomon-style structure: the plot is revealed from up to eight points of views, and each time we see something different to help us figure out the puzzle. As the "flashbacks" continue to play over the crucial 23 minutes, the action becomes more and more intense, as the bad guys are revealed and their plans are shown in action. This creates great suspense and tension, albeit sometimes artificial. I mean, it can be irritating to see Barnes witness something important, only to have that "something" revealed to us 40 minutes later. To his credit, Levy successfully portrays the good and bad guys with more depth than usual, giving us something to empathize. It also isn't completely predictable at first who the good or bad guys are and what they want. However, the film becomes a more standard thriller, 24-style, once the different points of view merge toward the climax.
As with any thrillers, there are plenty of plot holes to cover Spain. For example, the security seems to be incredibly loose, even after the President has been shot and a few bombs have gone off. Then there are some nagging questions about the motives of certain characters that are unanswered. Why are they doing this? What is the purpose of the plan? It's difficult to talk about these plot holes without giving spoilers, so I won't. Also, the plot seems contrived once we figure out what is happening, and there are too many coincidences -- the intersecting plot lines make me think of Crash, but not in a good way.
Fortunately, director Pete Travis (Omagh) keeps the pace fast enough that we have no time to ask these questions. Travis has successfully crossed over from TV to film to give us a fantastic thrill ride. He also takes Levy's challenging structure and gives it great coherence. Granted, after a few such "flashbacks" the audiences start to groan. When you really think about it, the plot is actually rather simple -- it has more to do with revealing the puzzle than solving it. In a way, it reminds me of Rendition: the jumping timeline reveals the different players and pieces the puzzle together, but it has less to do with how the characters themselves do the piecing.
Even with its flaws, it is a taut, suspenseful and intense thriller with an important moral question at the core. Don't look for deep meanings, though. What is important is that it's top-notch entertainment from our vantage point.
Stars: Dennis Quaid, Matthew Fox, Forest Whitaker, Sigourney Weaver, William Hurt
Director: Pete Travis
Writer: Barry Levy
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense violence and action, some disturbing images and brief strong language
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Script – 7
Performance – 7
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 8
Production – 8
Total – 7.5 out of 10