Thrillers about high profile assassination conspiracies have always been massively successful, both on the Big Screen in everything from In the Line of Fire to Shooter, and on the small screen with the likes of 24. I guess it probably all started with JFK, but the popularity of this kind of subject matter with audiences is undeniable. Vantage Point is the latest take on political conspiracies, pitched as a cross between Rashomon and 24, which is a hell of a standard to live up to. So, is it any good?
The President of the United States is attending a Peace Summit in Spain to address the current terrorist climate, but when he gets shot twice by a sniper in the middle of a crowded arena, the authorities have to pull out all of the stops to try and find the assassin before he escapes the city. But with every single type of surveillance focussed on the event, it is not long before the authorities discover that the truth is not what it seems. With the key fifteen minutes surrounding the shooting replayed and re-examined from several different points of view, the pieces of the puzzle are slowly put together to reveal a much bigger conspiracy behind it all.
Vantage Point has a tremendous premise, its opening fifteen minutes will blow you away. It has tension and action, and sets up plenty of puzzles to solve. The trouble is, after seeing the same fifteen minutes replayed for, I would say, the fourth time, the gimmick has totally worn off. So, after a couple more times, you're positively turned off by it. The novelty value fades way before they stop flogging the now dead horse.
In terms of narrative, well kind of an awful lot happens in those vital fifteen minutes, and most of it actually holds together quite well, even under fairly close scrutiny. Unfortunately, for a ninety minute movie, there is still an awful lot of wasted time. There are whole characters who could have been removed (most notably the one played by Forest Whitaker) to streamline the proceedings. But then again, that would leave this running at the length of little more than an extended season finale to 24. (Hmmm, which is not necessarily a bad thing).
As is, the pseudo-flashbacks grow tiresome and the action climax is too long in the making - and marginally disappointing in its actualisation. It's not a bad climax, just an average one. Entertaining, but also pretty unoriginal, with a car chase that is positively bland after the Bourne movies (but would have, again, been about the standard for a decent TV feature). So, what starts out in a very promising way, soon degenerates into just an average assassination/conspiracy action thriller. It is nominally interesting for the most part, but nothing wildly new and certainly nothing with any re-watch value.
The casting pretty much follows suit with the disappointment of the high concept movie itself, with some relatively big names - some pretty reliable acting talent - who largely turn in average (or even woefully misguided) performances. Dennis Quaid is a bit of an everyman actor. I liked him during his Innerspace years, but his recent comeback (as if he was that big in the first place) has been pretty lacklustre. No bad movies - just a bunch of average The Day After Tomorrow-esque affairs. Here he pulls off the semi-action-hero role quite well, although the character he plays is painfully clichéd, contrived to the point of being uncomfortable. He's your standard 'traumatised' Secret Service agent who no one quite trusts because he might lose his nerves at any moment. Kind of a Clint from In the Line of Fire. The only trouble is, rather than being the guy traumatised by the harrowing experience of losing a president, he's lost the plot because - and get this! - he took a bullet and saved the president's life. Hmmm, sorry, it just seems to be a crowbarred-in character résumé that doesn't even make sense. So, despite Quaid pulling off the action side of things, you largely feel nothing for his 2-D character.
William (History of Violence) Hurt's president is nothing heavy for the decent actor, and he also seems comfortable in the role, serving his purpose well. Sigourney Weaver is utterly wasted as the newsroom coordinator who gives us our first reporter-orientated view of the 15 minutes, sounding so insincere in her dialogue that she might as well have been reading from cue-cards herself. Matthew (Lost) Fox? Well, he seems a little lost. He has to work with an even thinner character than anybody else, playing the token pelican (well, not literally, but I don't want to spoil the twist) in a totally unconvincing manner. Arguably he was miscast, but I doubt many could have turned around this also-crowbarred-in character and made it more plausible.
Edgar Ramirez - Jason Bourne's deadly opponent in Ultimatum - is entertaining as a kind-of anti-hero Jack Bauer, a Spanish ex-Special Forces merc who gets involved in the whole conspiracy. The only trouble is, if his skills were really this good, why would he not just turn on his - clearly untrustworthy - bosses? Ok, so that's another character that doesn't make any sense. La Haine's Said Taghmaoui pops up as the sinister kinda-arab-looking guying who always gets the orchestra of kinda-arab-music playing in the background. Now, do we think that could be a hint?
And finally we have Forest Whitaker. Why oh why oh why oh why? After powerhouse performances in the likes of The Last King of Scotland, and even in the phenomenal 5th season of The Shield, as well as some more introspective, contemplative work, like in Ghost Dog, I have no idea why he agreed to be in this movie. They gave him another 2-D shallow character to play and must have said “Forest, give it everything you got” because he plays it like he's going for an Oscar. Sure, he is technically the emotional core of the movie, but again it's a contrived role and does not fit in with the rest at all. It also relies heavily on the fact that the audience is likely to 'trust' Whitaker, because - in reality - if your young daughter bumped into a burly stranger, who then offered to buy her an ice-cream, alarm bells might be going off. But hey, it's Forest Whitaker, so it must have been a really sweet gesture, awww. Scrap this character from the movie and it would have been much more neat and streamlined, and probably not run out of steam halfway through, but it would also have been shorter and - I guess - a ninety minute movie can't get much shorter and still remain commercially viable.
All in all, Vantage Point is far from a bad movie, it's just not a very original movie. It has a decent concept, but milks it for more than it is worth, and the average action-(anti-)climax comes as too little, too late. The trouble is, the excellence of the opening fifteen minutes sets the standard for the rest of the movie - and it's too high a standard to maintain. So for its ninety minute runtime, whilst you're likely to quite enjoy it, and probably stay interested, you're highly unlikely to ever want to watch it again. Hackneyed, clichéd and repetitive, it has enough going for it for a Saturday evening thriller, but just don't expect anything special.
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