Running Time 90 minutes
Written by Barry Levy
Directed by Pete Travis
Starring William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Dennis Quaid, Matthew Fox and Forest Whitaker
First, the good news: Vantage Point is a nonstop thrill ride with no emergency cord to allow you to slow down or get off. You just hold your breath and hope you don’t get injured. It’s got a perfect cast at full tilt, breathtaking action cinematography that keeps your pace pulsing and your heart pounding, and so many plot twists you won’t even think about a potty break. This movie is never boring, which is saying a lot.
Now, the bad news: Vantage Point keeps you guessing without ever telling you why. It’s the harrowing story of a terrorist plot to assassinate the president of the United States (William Hurt) in the middle of a landmark coalition of leaders from five continents in the middle of a town square in Salamanca, Spain. During the opening ceremony of the summit conference to solve the crisis of global terrorism, just after the president’s motorcade arrives in the plaza, two shots ring out, the leader of the free world keels over in a pool of blood, and chaos runs rampant. Before the tough producer of network coverage of the event (Sigourney Weaver) can organize the shocked news crew from a nearby control center, a bomb goes off under the bleachers and blows up the plaza, killing masses of onlookers. As all hell breaks loose, the movie rewinds to 23 minutes earlier and we start seeing the incident from different points of view. The style borrows heavily from Kurosawa’s legendary Rashomon, but instead of three vantage points, we get more. The movie says eight, but I lost track after five. Anyway, the point is, every time the film rewinds 23 minutes, you get a new clue. If you miss one, you’re lost. Forget about popcorn. There’s no time for refills, and what you bought already will be all over the floor.
First there’s Barnes, a brave Secret Service agent (Dennis Quaid), still psychologically suspect after being shot himself in the line of duty only six months earlier. Aging but incredibly fit, he tackles a Spanish cop rushing to the scene who claims he is only trying to protect the mayor, and spots a window where the murder suspect has been hiding, while other curious and illogical priorities are followed by his best friend and fellow Secret Service agent, Kent (Matthew Fox, whose agent must have said, “We need a feature to guarantee your career if Lost doesn’t get renewed for another season”).
Next, we follow Enrique, the Spanish cop (acclaimed Spanish actor Eduardo Noriega), who watched his girlfriend plant the bomb and escapes through the cobblestone streets chased by the Americans. Then we meet an innocent but conscientious American tourist (Forest Whitaker), who photographed the entire event with his high-definition camcorder. He’s got everything and everybody on tape, including the killers, and is the only one who knows they’re pursuing the wrong man. The entire city is paralyzed, the C.I.A. can’t even reach the White House, but this tourist is the only man in Spain who can call home to warn his wife to turn on Good Morning America—on a cell phone, yet.
There’s more. This assassination has more reruns than Murder, She Wrote. Are you ready for the revelation that it was a double who was shot, while the actual president, frozen with horror, watches the whole thing from a hotel room window? Sort of like Andy Warhol in the old days, dispatching look-alikes to book signings. Next, the film targets the terrorists themselves, who knew about the “double” from the get-go and blew up the square as a diversion while they kidnapped the real world leader and full-pedaled him through the traffic in a fake ambulance. (Don’t ask.) While we are inundated with real clues and red herrings (an oscillating fan, a lost child with an ice cream cone, a suicide bomber disguised as a hotel bellhop), I guess it would be too much to ask “What is going on here … and why?”
But ask we must. Who are the terrorists and what is their goal? Described only as “a local group” (huh?), their motives are never explained. And by the end of the fifth rerun, when the secret identity of the real assassin turns out to be the biggest shock in the film, you may begin to wonder if they’ve all been watching too many network reruns themselves. He’s a far cry from Idi Amin, but why is Mr. Whitaker—overweight, lame and with only one eye—racing through the traffic dodging trucks and minivans to scoop up the little girl with the ice cream cone? Is this how we treat our Oscar winners? Sigourney Weaver’s talent is so wasted she almost seems like an afterthought. They’re all fine, the camerawork is sensational and director Pete Travis knows exactly where to station the people and equipment without bothering to explain why, and I honestly admit I was on the edge of my seat. But the sense of déjà vu I had watching so many runaway vehicles crashing and smashing through the narrow cobblestone Spanish streets only reminded me how much more fun I’ve had watching the running of the bulls in Pamplona.