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Vantage Point (2008) is no Kurosawa’s Rashomon, (1950)—but in all fairness what is?

25 Jan

Vantage Point is a 2008 political thriller by first time director Pete Travis that focuses on one 23-minute segment in time covering an assassination attempt on the President of the United States.  The film begins without development behind its characters; rather, action takes off in the first few minutes.  The premise is straightforward: view a Presidential assassination from eight character angles, each having a different take on the ensuing events.  Once a character sees what he or she was supposed to see, the film rewinds, and plays the same situation over with another character, theoretically revealing additional details of the 23 minute attack.

The 23 minutes is seen through the eyes of eight unrelated parties.  Dennis Quaid and Matthew Fox as Secret Services Agents, Forest Whitaker as a video taking tourist, William Hurt as the President and Sigourney Weaver as a producer of multinational news organization all star in principal roles.  These five actors/actresses are not exactly second rate talent. Weaver and Quaid put in the best performances without a doubt.

Because of the film’s technique using different characters that view the same 23 minutes and showing the audience what they perceive, Vantage Point is often compared, unfavorably, to Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950), which was the first movie to use this technique to tell the story of a rape/murder in order to question the possibility of “truth.”  Rashomon was also the film that introduced Kurosawa to the west.  Unlike the “Rashomon Effect,” which tries to piece together the different perspectives and viewpoints in order to reveal a justly “truthful” account of what happened, Vantage Point instead opts to cut and paste plot and dialogue in between special effects, kidnapping, assassination and terrorism scenes.  While Vantage Point does reveal the assassination attempt from various points of view, in Rashomon those views are shown as flashbacks.  However, in Vantage Point each point of view is not a flashback, instead it merely provides a certain view of the story, while the story (supposedly) moves forward.

In Vantage Point, U.S. President Henry Ashton (William Hurt) attends a political gala in Salamanca, Spain peddling an international anti-terrorism treaty—I am sure one that will infringe on our civil liberties even more.  The assassination attempt on the President occurs over a time span of 23 minutes.  Whenever the 23 minutes have run their course with the relevant character, the events start from the next vantage point.  Each segment reveals additional details that complete the superficial story behind the assassination.  There are eight segments; out of mercy I will only describe three.

Viewpoint number one: GNN producer Rex Brooks (Sigourney Weaver) is in charge of the media personnel there to cover the event from a mobile television studio.  The Mayor (Jose Carlos Rodriguez) delivers a short introduction for the President, but the President is shot twice as he approaches the podium.  An explosion outside the plaza soon follows.  Moments later, the podium itself is destroyed by a larger secondary explosion, killing and injuring numerous people.  As the smoke clears, GNN reporter Angie Jones (Zoe Saldana) is seen lying dead in the rubble.Vantage Point [2008] The TV Studio. 

The second perspective follows Secret Service agents Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid) and Kent Taylor (Matthew Fox).  While on post, Barnes notices a curtain fluttering in the window of a nearby building that was allegedly vacated.  He also observes American tourist Howard Lewis (Forest Whitaker) filming the audience.  After the President is shot, Barnes tackles a man rushing to the podium named Enrique (Eduardo Noriega).  Taylor pursues a lead to a potential assassin.  Following the second explosion, Barnes barges into the GNN mobile studio and asks to view their footage.  He calls Taylor, who reports the direction of the suspected assassin’s escape route.  Barnes then views an image on one of the camera’s live feeds that startles him and prompts him to run out without saying a word.

By the sixth vantage point, we have been introduced to terrorist Suarez, who shoots Ashton’s body double using a remote-controlled automatic rifle placed in an adjacent window next to the one with the fluttering curtain that had drawn Barnes’ attention earlier.  The rifle is retrieved by Taylor, whom Barnes sees leaving the scene wearing a Spanish policeman’s uniform on one of the GNN live feeds, even though he tells Barnes that he’s in pursuit of the assassin over the phone.  Barnes realizes Taylor is actually part of the terror plot.  The man Enrique saw embracing Veronica (who we meet in one of the earlier vantage points) is revealed to be sharpshooter Javier (Edgar Ramirez), whose brother is being held hostage to ensure Javier’s cooperation with the terrorists.  Javier kills the guards and aides within the hotel, and kidnaps the President.  Ashton is later placed in an ambulance with Suarez and Veronica disguised as medics.  At the overpass, Enrique, who did not die in the blast at the podium as intended, confronts Javier and Taylor.  Enraged, Javier shoots Enrique, mistakenly believing he had knowledge of his kidnapped brother’s whereabouts.  Javier is then shot and killed by Taylor when he demands to be brought to his brother, who had been killed earlier by Suarez.  Enrique dies of his wounds as Barnes reaches the scene on foot firing several rounds at Taylor, who attempts to flee.  After crashing his car, a critically injured Taylor is dragged out by Barnes.  He orders Taylor to reveal where the President has been taken, but Taylor dies.  Barnes runs to an ambulance where he sees Veronica lying dead.  He shoots Suarez dead and rescues the President—tying everything up nice and neat in less than 2 hours.

In the end this film all winds up—or trickles down—to yet another chase through crowded streets in commandeered cars, with an ending meant to be ironic but that simply provides a crowning howler to all the nonsense.  Unlike Akira Kurosawa’s classic film Rashomon, which is structured around multiple retellings of the same event, in Vantage Point nothing is gained from all the stopping and restarting.  Aside from the meager changing-perspectives device, the film has nothing going on and there doesn’t seem to be any reason for adopting this strategy which gets really old after about the fourth time. Vantage Point, like several other movies we have reviewed here at JPFmovies, is yet another example of Hollywood making an action-adventure movie that is short on plot intricacies but long on gimmicks and explosives. No amount of ripening time would make this artificial and ultimately harebrained movie anything more than crude, nerve-grinding and finally as un-salvageable as the car accidents it keeps inflicting on its characters.

Clearly, this is not a movie to take its audience’s intelligence for granted.

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2012 in Movie Reviews

 

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