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No Matter What the Angle, It’s a Bad Vantage Point

Written by: Mike Caccioppoli, Feature Film Critic

Image When Shakespeare wrote “it is a tale…full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” he might well have been looking forward to the future, reviewing Vantage Point, a film built to create an awesome trailer, but with no substance to back it up. If the plot were laid out and examined from start to finish, it would reveal itself as one of the most inane and ridiculous action movies in years. Having figured this out, the filmmakers decided to confuse matters with a Rashoman-style narrative that leaps back and forth in time, telling the story from eight different perspectives. It’s a cool idea, but it doesn’t take long to see it for what it is: a gimmick meant to put a glossy coat of paint on a hollow and poorly conceived film.  

The eight different perspectives are from characters that are caught up in what at first seems to be the assassination of the President of the United States. One of them is the secret service agent (Dennis Quaid) who as it turns out has already taken a bullet for the President in a previous assassination attempt, and has just recently returned to duty. His new assignment is to protect the President while he makes a speech from an anti-terrorism summit in Spain, where thousands are cheering and protesting in turn. Just before the assassination attempt, he thinks he sees something in a window across the way. The same thing is seen by an American tourist with a video camera (Forest Whitaker) who seems to always turn his camera to exactly where the action is, kind of like the film’s cinematographer. Then there is a local police officer who is there to protect the mayor. He watches the shooting, but also thinks he sees someone throw a bomb under the podium, which explodes a few seconds later. After each point-of-view is shown, the scene is rewound and begun again from another perspective. And so on and so forth.

It doesn’t take long for this style to get not only monotonous, but silly as well. Each time we start all over again, we get the digital clock as it ticks away past noon, and each time the audience would laugh a little bit louder. They laughed because the film’s narrative style is so obvious and transparent that it has no room for subtlety. This conceit, it turns out, is really the only thing the movie has to offer, which might have been enough if we haven’t seen it so many times before, most recently in the work of Quentin Tarantino. As I sat through it, I couldn’t help but wonder if the ultimate payoff was going to be good, thus rendering this obvious example of style over substance worth my time. Any way you look at it (and there are five more perspectives I won’t bother recounting here), the answer is a resounding no.

This is not to say that Vantage Point couldn’t have worked if it had a story that mattered or at least made sense. I’m reminded of the great film, Z by Costa- Gavras which starred Yves Montand as a prominent leftist who is assassinated, and that film also involved a mystery surrounding the assassination. It also used masterful editing (in fact it won the Best Editing Oscar in 1969) to create a puzzle that we the audience had to try and put together. But unlike Vantage Point, that film actually had something to say and the puzzle added up to more than just a distraction from the plot. The result in the case of Z was a riveting political thriller that engaged us and remained in our mind’s eye long after the film was over. Vantage Point on the other hand is so devoid of its own real point-of-view that all of its back and forth in time mumbo jumbo leaves us cold and completely uninvolved.