Movie Review: Angles d'attaque
By Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune Movie Critic
A frantic mixture of "Clue," "24" and, since the movie press materials insist on it, Kurosawa's "Rashomon," the thriller "Vantage Point" treats the specter of presidential assassination as a mechanical puzzle to be solved, one piece at a time.
I admit it. I had issues tracking this thing even after the explanations finished explaining themselves. The information sorting and gathering required by Barry L. Levy's screenplay feels like night school as opposed to a great night out at the movies. While the results certainly pass the time (a rather low bar for any 90-minute thriller), if "Vantage Point" is a hit, its climactic car chase - nothing revolutionary, but exciting nonetheless - will be the primary reason. Leading up to the chase, the film fusses around with so many flashbacks you yearn for some literal forward motion.
At the center of "Vantage Point" stands Secret Service agent Thomas Barnes (played by Dennis Quaid), who at some point must have known the Clint Eastwood character from "In the Line of Fire." A year ago Barnes took a bullet for President Ashton (William Hurt). Now he's back in action but clearly nervous about it, as is his partner, played by Matthew Fox. Quaid does not hold back: He really does seem to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Over and over in "Vantage Point" the action returns to high noon, minutes before an unknown gunman takes aim at the president as he begins a speech unveiling a counterterrorism strategy at a global summit held in sunny Salamanca, Spain (actually Mexico City). Who's behind that fluttering curtain in a room above the outdoor courtyard stage? What has tourist Forest Whitaker captured on his video camera that has Barnes so exercised? Is that someone tossing a bomb underneath the risers? Can a jittery Anglo-American populace, confronted with rabid anti-American sentiment abroad, trust anyone anymore?
In this blizzard of questions the biggest flake is this: Why does the trailer for "Vantage Point" blow so much of its plot sky-high? Columbia Pictures likely wanted to assuage the film's potential audience that it wouldn't do anything so crass as to peddle a movie that kills off a president, however fictional, just to get its story going. This is the likely rationale (spoiler alert!) behind the trailer's insistence (spoiler alert!) on explaining that Hurt's character (spoiler alert!) does not actually get shot in the assassination attempt. The victim is a double ("we've used doubles since Reagan," says one character, offhandedly). There's far more to the story but now you're up to trailer speed.
Each time "Vantage Point" loops back to high noon, we learn a little more about the shooting and the bombings from a different character's perspective. We also learn a little more about how tricky the thriller game has become in the late Bush era. A movie such as this, full of barely contained "24"-inspired rage (though its multiple perspectives owe more to the short-lived TV series "Boomtown") has it in for everybody. Its high body count and repeated shots of bombing victims wandering, bloody, amid smoke and carnage encourages a kind of sour acceptance of the way things are.
Once the conspiracy reveals itself, the film throws up its hands and plunks Quaid behind the wheel of a borrowed automobile, and director Pete Travis' film finally throws the stick shift out of reverse. Editor Stuart Baird must've been paid by the cut: Simple five-second action beats are often sliced into three or four separate, panicky shots. I found much of it more queasy-making than any of the "Bourne" pictures, or even "Cloverfield," but to each stomach its own nausea inducement.
With a less pedigreed international cast the whole thing would be a disaster, as opposed to a chilly new kind of disaster film. The disaster is America's image abroad, for which there is no solution. "Vantage Point" isn't sure what to make of this; it's only trying to divert you and make you play its little guessing game, one rewind at a time.
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for sequences of intense violence and action, some disturbing images and brief strong language).
Running time: 1:30.
Starring: Dennis Quaid (Thomas Barnes); Matthew Fox (Kent Taylor); Forest Whitaker (Howard Lewis); William Hurt (President Ashton); Eduardo Noriega (Enrique); Edgar Ramirez (Javier); Sigourney Weaver (Rex Brooks).
Directed by Pete Travis; written by Barry L. Levy; edited by Stuart Baird; photographed by Amir Mokri; music by Atli Orvarsson; production design by Brigitte Broch; produced by Neal H. Moritz. A Columbia Pictures release.