February 24, 2008 -- “Vantage Point” is a political thriller put together like a jigsaw puzzle. The film involves a political assassination and kidnapping plot that is very complicated and it involves a lot of mis-direction. The film is constructed like “Groundhog Day.” We see about 10 minutes of narrative from noon to a few minutes after noon, then the clock rewinds and we start over at noon from the point of view of a different character. Each time a new chapter in the story is told, the viewer gets closer to the truth what is really happening. Near the end there is the expected car chase. Yes, it is a cliché, but it is an effective car chase, nonetheless.
Dennis Quaid of “The Rookie,” stars as Secret Service agent Thomas Barnes. Barnes took a bullet for President Ashton (played by William Hurt of “Into the Wild”) and it is his first day back on the job. His superiors are not quite sure he is ready for action yet after what he's been through. He should have taken another week off. On his first day back on the job the president gets shot and kidnapped, Barnes almost gets killed by a bomb and he gets into a deadly car chase and gun battle with terrorists. All this takes place at an anti-terrorism summit meeting held at Salamanca, Spain. In addition to Barnes, we also see the assassination attempt and bombing from the perspective of a tourist, Howard Lewis (Forest Whitaker of “The Last King of Scotland”). We also see it from the point of view of a TV news producer, Rex Brooks (Sigourney Weaver of “Holes”). The story is also told from the viewpoint of some of the terrorists involved in the attack.
As each of these separate stories are revealed from these differing viewpoints, the audience is able to piece together the whole story of what is happening. It is a gimmick. It works, but it gets old after the fourth version of the story. That 12:00 noon graphic gets a lot more tedious than the 6:00 a.m. on Phil's radio alarm clock (accompanied by Sonny and Cher's “I Got You Babe”) did in “Groundhog Day.” Unfortunately, we don't get the satisfaction of seeing anybody smash that clock to pieces the way Phil did repeatedly. After the film runs through several versions of the story, we finally get to the big car chase and the shootouts at the conclusion of the movie. The action seems a bit static up until the final car chase and shootout, simply because we've seen it all before, several times.
So this is a gimmick movie, like “The Sixth Sense,” “Memento,” “Atonement,” “The Usual Suspects,” “Fight Club” and other gimmick movies. In order to be a great, or even good movie, however, it takes more than a gimmick, and this film doesn't have much more going for it than the rewind gimmick, a very talented cast of actors, and some pretty good action sequences. That is enough to earn it a passing grade, but just barely. It lacks the basics of what it takes to be a good movie. It's most glaring weakness is character development. We never really get to know any of the characters. We don't know what motivates them or what brought them to this particular point in time. They are mere cogs in a gimmick machine. This film rates a C+.
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