Ever since I moved out, my father, apparently afflicted by some sort of empty-nest syndrome, has suggested that we go see a movie nearly every weekend. I can’t fault him for it, though, since it’s given me an opportunity to hone my review skills. An unfortunate side-effect of this, however, is the fact that I have to see contemporary movies, which are, almost entirely, cliché-riddled retreads (or outright remakes) of old storylines, with one-dimensional characters and atrocious dialogue apparently inspired by a 1990’s soap opera.
Pete Travis’s Vantage Point, however, is not such a film.
Vantage Point follows…actually…I can’t use my standard “follows the adventures of grizzled action hero X” here, since it doesn’t actually follow anyone in particular. More on that later. But basically, the plot of the film is thus: the president is speaking at some sort of anti-terrorism summit, and an assassination attempt is made, then the summit is bombed. But then, the audience finds out that it goes much deeper than that, but I wont’ spoil the rest.
This is one of those rare films that’s built around a concept. This is quite refreshing, since I haven’t seen a concept film in at least a decade. Most of the films I’ve seen of late have been character-based (which, don’t get me wrong, is probably the best way to tell a story) or based on nothing in particular (such as, say, any movie with Resident Evil in the title). But Vantage Point is based more around the idea of slowly assembling the plot by showing it through the viewpoint of five or six different people. Not an idea that’s been used very often.
Now, I must admit, I wasn’t expecting much. This kind of film is usually little more than an interesting experiment. Telling a story this way is also horrendously complicated, and I have a very low opinion of the ability of most modern directors to handle complicated stories. So I was incredibly surprised when I watched Vantage Point. It was actually good.
Its major saving grace is the novel way of telling the story: basically, you see one person’s view of the assassination attempt, the bombing, et cetera, then you jump back in time to the original starting point, and get to see those same events through the eyes of another character. Although this sounds like an idea that would have been done to death by now, it hasn’t been, and is fresh enough that what would have been a fairly boring action-movie plot is transformed into something quite fresh and engaging. There were times, such as a car-chase sequence, when I actually found myself on the edge of my seat. I haven’t been excited by a movie since I saw Twister as a child in 1996, but the continual jumps don’t give you a chance to get used to, or worse, get bored with, the action.
The other thing that surprised me about Vantage Point was the maturity of the plot. Of course, any action movie is bound to have a juvenile flavor to it, but this movie overcomes that by trying its hardest to feel genuine and to really say something. I’ve seen a few movies which try to cope with the idea of terrorism, but this is one of the few that I’ve seen that actually tries to say something about the politics of it, which is a nice change. And it helps the maturity factor a great deal that the characters aren’t so much cardboard cutouts. As you might expect, a film like Vantage Point, which basically has to be five or six mini-films, doesn’t have much time for character development, but it manages this quite competently nonetheless, using clean, concise exposition.
All that said, this is not a perfect movie. While the film’s multiple-viewpoint concept is interesting and refreshing, it really feels like a great deal was sacrificed for its sake, leading to some really contrived plot segments that annoyed me a great deal. You’ve heard of deus ex machina, that horrible “storytelling” technique where something unlikely appears at the last second to save a dying character or pull the storyline back together? Well, Vantage Point is guilty of using deus ex machina‘s dark cousin, deus ex technologica. I won’t give anything away, but suffice to say, one of the terrorists does more with a high-tech little cell phone than I ever knew was possible. For example, I searched my own phone’s menus for hours after the movie, looking for the “fire a sniper rifle”,” detonate a bomb”, and “make the plot make sense” buttons I saw the head terrorist use. After accidentally deleting most of my contact numbers, it dawned on me that the mutant phone-gadget-thing was no more than a way to neatly tie up the dozen or so loose ends that are the inevitable product of trying to do a story like this.
Even so, it’s an interesting movie, and entertaining, and the concept it revolves around is well-executed enough that it feels quite fresh. Even with the magic phones and the “shell-shocked old-time secret service agent” bit, it still comes together well enough that it’s worth seeing. Hell, it might even be worth it to see this one on the big screen.
* * * * * * * ` ~ ~ (7.5/10 asterisks)