Vantage Point

2008, Movie, PG-13, 90 mins

Review

VANTAGE POINT
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Witnesses to an attempted political assassination come away with sharply differing impressions of who did what to whom in Irish director Pete Travis' theatrical feature debut.

Salamanca, Spain: In town for an international antiterrorism summit U.S. president Ashton (William Hurt) is making a noon appearance at the Plaza Major with other delegates. The streets and plaza are crowded with supporters and protesters; there are news crews, local police and Secret Service men everywhere. As Ashton is introduced from a raised dais, shots ring out. The president falls, the Secret Service scrambles and a massive explosion sends bodies and debris flying. Amid panic, screaming and smoke, agents Kent Taylor (Matthew Fox, of TV's Lost) and Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid), newly returned to active duty after taking a bullet for his president a year earlier, start to piece together the events of the last 23 minutes, starting with news footage shot by a Global Network News team under the hardnosed direction of senior producer Rex Brooks (Sigourney Weaver). Rewind to 11:59....

Comparisons to RASHOMON (1950) are inevitable but misguided: Where Akira Kurosawa was interested in why people lie and massage the truth, producing strikingly different accounts of the same event, screenwriter Barry Levy is playing with a gimmick, withholding or distorting information so each new variation on a theme can add a new and shocking piece to the puzzle, or recast some red herring flopping around an earlier version in a different light. That's fun for a while, but as the accounts of the news team, the Secret Service detail, the American tourist (Forest Whitaker) filming from the plaza, the local cop (Eduardo Noriega) whose suspicious post-shooting behavior makes him a suspect, the high-tech conspirators, and the president himself dovetail into a cohesive story, the geeky glee of playing "can you spot the difference" wears thin. Each new revelation drags the story further into the cliches of big-budget American action movies: squealing tires, absurdly intricate plots that everybody's in on and superhuman feats of tough-guy resolve. At a certain point, it's sheer can-you-top-this excess, and when credibility flies out the window there's no reason to continue paying attention. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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