Vantage Point | Film | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Vantage Point

Pete Travis' vaguely political action thriller misses the mark.

The president's been shot!

In fact, in Pete Travis' vaguely political action thriller, the president of the United States gets shot a lot. Or at least we see footage of the man being shot over and over again, from different points of view. That is, if we can even be sure he has been shot ...

Confused? Intrigued? Vantage Point offers a promising set-up in which viewers will see the president's shooting and subsequent melee through the eyes of several individuals on the scene. Each story is incomplete, but having seen all sides, an intelligent movie-goer will neatly assemble the puzzle pieces into the complete picture. Unfortunately, the frantic and sketchily plotted Vantage Point quickly devolves into tedium, gimmickry and incoherent nonsense, so that the clearest picture materializing for any intelligent movie-goer will be that of his eight dollars swirling away.

The drama all takes place in Salamanca, Spain, where President Ashton (William Hurt) is attending an international summit on the war on terror, or something similar. (Background is not this film's specialty.) Regardless, lots of world leaders will take a single small stage for a speech and photo-op.

You'll simply marvel how any country's security detail allowed its precious leader to turn up at this event -- held just mere inches from a protesting crowd in a fully enclosed courtyard surrounded by four walls of windows. (Every room's a guaranteed head-shot!)

We watch our first version of the event from inside the mobile unit of Global Network News. As a producer (Sigourney Weaver) barks out orders, we study the multiple camera feeds: the president's motorcade; angry crowds waving signs reading "Anti-U.S."; the onstage presentation; a prickly on-site reporter (Zoe Saldana). Suddenly, two shots fell the president; the Secret Service jump a bearded guy; the crowd panics; a bomb goes off outside the plaza; more panic; and finally, a bomb goes off in the plaza, seriously disrupting GNN's coverage.

Travis now rewinds the sequence -- literally, in a gimmicky technique that just gets more irritating each time we see it -- and we start again, 23 minutes earlier, on board with Secret Service agent Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid).

Barnes, we've already learned from news crews' keen eyes, took a bullet for the president just last year (this guy gets shot at a lot!), and is newly returned to the job. He's the kind of stand-up movie character you can rightly expect to be the hero. His perspective on the incident introduces us to his Secret Service colleague, Kent Taylor (Matthew Fox); a mysterious bearded guy (Eduardo Noriega); and a camcorder-wielding American tourist named Zapruder ... no, wait, Howard Lewis (Forest Whitaker). This sequence ends with Barnes in the GNN van, where he spots something on the videotapes that changes everything. It's the first of many cheats that we're not privileged to see.

Subsequent replayings of the event follow: one from the bearded guy, who initiates the first of many foot and car chases beyond the plaza; another from tourist Lewis; now it's President Ashton's version; and finally, a chaotic multiple-perspective wrapper-upper that purports to follow the villains. This final sequence throws plotting and logic to the wind, as new characters are introduced, old ones morph without any reason, and coincidence reigns.

This is a film that doesn't even remotely earn its plot twists, especially the final big one, which for obvious reasons I can't discuss with you now. Suffice to say it happens, but there's no explanation why.

Additionally, it's offensive and amateurish that Vantage Point never identifies the obviously well-organized band of terrorists and just passes them off as conveniently evil swarthy foreigners. And that's the sum of their badness: They look suspicious; we never learn their agenda. For all I know, they could be hell-bent against poorly plotted U.S. films that reduce much of the world's population to cardboard stereotypes.

Vantage Point can't even be excused as a gimmick in search of a story, since the multiple-POV Rashomon style it trumpets is hardly fresh; it's regularly employed in films and TV shows.

And neither the plot nor the technique make any attempt to broaden the context and shed light on the provocative issues Vantage Point flirts with: the war on terror; America's place in the world; what exactly constitutes visual truth; crime and crime-solving in a world of omnipresent media. Vantage Point just adds up rigged coincidences to construct a pedestrian dime-novel narrative, rather than to create the sensation of shifting realities that reveal hidden truths. In English, with some Spanish, with subtitles.

click to enlarge Go ahead, shoot me: William Hurt portrays U.S. President Ashton.
Go ahead, shoot me: William Hurt portrays U.S. President Ashton.

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