Vantage Point

It's so rare these days to see a thriller populated by middle-aged protagonists (and actors) that Pete Davis' gimmicky but well-mounted “Vantage Point” should get credit just for casting an all-star of intelligent and mature ensemble, including William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Forest Whitaker, and Matthew Fox.

Using a “Rashomon”-like template, and assuming there is no such thing as one objective truth, Barry L. Levy's scenario centers on eight strangers, with eight different points of view, each and all trying to unlock the facts behind an assassination attempt on the President of the U.S.

The closer the film has to main characters are Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid) and partner Kent Taylor (Matthew Fox, better known as TV actor in “Lost”), two Secret Service agents assigned to protect President Ashton (William Hurt) at a summit dealing with the burning issue of global war on escalating terrorism. When President Ashton is shot moments after arrival in Spain, chaos ensues and disparate lives collide in the hunt for the assassin. So far so good, and the premise, used in other films before, is credible and intriguing enough to merit our acute attention in the first (and best) reel.

It just happens that in the crowd at the bustling Plaza Mayor is Howard Lewis (Forest Whitaker), an American tourist who thinks hes captured the shooter on his camcorder while videotaping the event for his kids back home. Also there, relaying the historic event to a global TV audience is American TV news producer Rex Brooks (Sigourney Weaver). Adding to the suspense is the fact that, during the news coverage, reported by Angie Jones (Zoe Saldana), various bombs go off, killing people in a crowded outdoor plaza in Spain. (The movie was actually shot in Mexico City).

The tale's other characters represent an international mix, played by some very good foreign thespians. They include Javier (Edgar Ramirez), a member of the terrorist cell, Veronica (Ayelet Zurer) a local paramedic, Suarez (Said Taghmaoui), a suspect-terrorist, and a Spanish girl named Anna (Alicia Zapien).

In the ensuing saga, which in style and approach recalls a good episode of TV's “24,” the characters reveal their sides of the stories, and the pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place, resulting in some shocking revelations about causes and motivations.

In “Vantage Point,” Irish director Pete Travis, who previously helmed “Omagh,” both benefits from and exploits current, deeply personal and political phobias, such as getting caught in a public site or being witnesses to suicide bombing or other terrorist attacks while traveling for business or vacationing abroad.

Reflecting technological trends and our post 9/11 dark and paranoid zeitgeist, recording devices, such as videos and camcorders, have assumed major roles in American movies, as was evident in “Disturbia,” “Cloverfield,” and currently George A. Romero's “Diary of the Dead,” to mention films of the past year alone.

Elegantly crafted, as would befit a techno thriller, “Vantage Point” is glitzier, shrewder and more entertaining than last year's DOAP (“Death of a President”), a film with which it shares some thematic and technical-filmic concerns.

A word is in order about the main characters. Beginning with her name, Rex, which brings to mind her roles as Ripley in the “Alien” pictures, Sigourney Weaver plays a harsh, matter-of-fact TV producer, who's bossing around her crew from a nearby media van.

Playing a part that resembles Clint Eastwood's in “In the Line of Fire,” Quaid's Barnes is an aging Secret Service agent on leave, after suffering a traumatic stress disorder as a result of several presidential assassination attempts. Barnes has now been called back into service to guard President Ashton, and for better or worse, the new assignment depends on greater, nearly-blind trust of his partner.

Forest Whitaker stands in for the curious but mild-mannered everyman, an American tourist obsessed with his camcorder, which arouses the attention of a couple of assassins obsessed with their own tools.

Disregarding linear storytelling, “Vantage Point” makes the most of its fractured narrative by repeatedly replaying events on fast forward and rewind. In this (and other respects), it's a movie that could not have been made ten or even five years ago.

As each version unfolds, new clues and details are added to the mystery, and you may argue that for a 90-minute feature, the tale is too gimmicky and has too many angles. This might make the experience a tad tedious for some viewers who, and upon disclosure, might feel exhausted if not utterly satisfied. As always, the process itself is far more interesting than the end result, the resolution, which is disappointing.

That said, unlike others films, such as “The Shooter” and “Hitman,” “Vantage Point” calls for greater audience attentiveness and participation in the process itself, not just in the resolution per se.

Pete Davis is a gifted director who seems attracted to stories about contempo socio-political issues. But he deserves better material than what he gets from scribe Barry Levy. I was impressed with his first feature, “Omagh,” which I saw at the 2004 Toronto Film Festival in the New Discovery series. “Omagh,” which won a number of kudos, including Irish Film and TV Academy Award for best Irish Film and a UK BAFTA, depicts the search for justice after the 1998 bombing in Omagh, Northern Ireland.

Cast

Thomas Barnes – Dennis Quaid
Kent Taylor – Matthew Fox
Howard Lewis – Forest Whitaker
Phil McCullough – Bruce McGill
Javier – Edgar Ramirez
Suarez – Said Taghmaoui
Veronica – Ayelet Zurer
Angie Jones – Zoe Saldana
Rex Brooks – Sigourney Weaver
President Ashton – William Hurt

Credits

A Sony Pictures Entertainment release of a Columbia Pictures presentation in association with Relativity Media of an Original Film production.
Produced by Neal H. Moritz.
Executive producers, Callum Greene, Tania Landau, Lynwood Spinks.
Co-producer, Ricardo Del Rio Galnares.
Directed by Pete Travis.
Screenplay: Barry L. Levy.
Camera: Amir Mokri.
Editor: Stuart Baird.
Music: Atli Orvarsson.
Production designer: Brigitte Broch.
Art directors: Hania Robledo Richards, Marcelo Del Rio Galnares.
Set designers: Sandro Valdez Lopez, Carlos Benassini Felix, Erick Monroy.
Set decorator: Denise Camargo.
Costume designer: Luca Mosca.
Sound: Nicolas Santiago Nunez Rojo; supervising sound editors, Eddy Joseph, Simon Chase.
Sound designer: Martin Cantwell; re-recording mixers, Mike Prestwood Smith, Mark Taylor, Jamie Roden.
Visual effects supervisor: Paddy Eason.
Visual effects: Rainmaker Animation and Visual Effects; stunt coordinators, Spiro Razatos, Julian Bucio Mortemayor, Phil Culotta.

MPAA Rating: PG-13.
Running time: 90 Minutes.