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Vantage Point

There is not a great deal to say about Pete Travis's Vantage Point at least in front of people who might have seen it. Here is a small handful of notes that I hope will be found helpful.

1. Anyone who compares Vantage Point to Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon is an illiterate buffoon. Rashomon is about the inconclusiveness of personal recollection. Four eyewitnesses (including the ghost of a dead victim) cannot agree on "what happened" when a sojourning couple encountered a brigand in the wilderness. To be blunt, Rashomon is about making four different movies out of the same story.

Vantage Point shares with Rashomon the use of multiple points of view, but it does not use them in the same way at all. With each iteration of events in Salamanca, Spain, on an afternoon of pleasant weather and unpleasant consequences, our grasp of the story is enriched by the meshing of details that, in earlier versions, made some sense but not much. The iterations get longer, and the last one is satisfyingly comprehensive. The puzzle of a terrorist attack is solved.

2. The camera work, by Amir Mokri, and the editing, headed by Stuart Baird, are the gleaming engine of the fast picture. The actors strap themselves in, then perform. Mr Travis does not allow any lingering.

3. The terrorist plot, which, if you must know, involves the President of the United States, is both fiendish and complex. Mr Travis is interested in its operation, not its objectives. It is impossible to say where the main terrorists come from.

I took the presence of Sigourney Weaver and, to a lesser extent, Dennis Quaid as a guarantee that Vantage Point would not be the demagogically scary movie that would inspire audiences to question the wisdom of civil liberty, and I was not disappointed. If the film has anything to say about terrorism in general, it's that there's no need for terrorist networks in today's gizmo-packed world. Not since night-vision goggles were deployed in The Silence of the Lambs have I seen anything as interesting is the devices on display here. I ought to note that there's nothing excessively imaginary or Bondian about them.

Vantage Point stands for the healthy and agreeable proposition that there is no honor among terrorists. But we knew that already, from Patriot Games.

4. What a cast! Sigourney Weaver, whose father, Sylvester "Pat" Weaver was one of the Old Gods of NBC News, plays what? a news director? producer? almost without makeup, every month of her fifty-eight years on display. (You should look half so good.) Her performance, at least when she isn't having a ball chewing out her staff, seems lit from within with a New Yorker's personal experience of 9/11. You watch the destruction of your city on television: it remains either good or bad television, regardless. Ms Weaver's character, Rex Brooks, clearly lives in a universe of meta from which only an explosive device will ever dislodge her provided it strikes her booth.

Dennis Quaid adds another performance to his list of dry-clean-only characters who have been put in the wash by mistake. Terminally rumpled, but still sharp as a tack, his Agent Barnes may be damaged goods, but the general collapse into disarray works to his advantage. He is unconscious of this however, as he stolidly goes about doing his job, which is, of course, to protect his President, whoever that might be. There is a moment toward the end, when his character's darkly blazing loyalty bestows upon William Hurt's very interesting President Ashton a positively Washingtonian halo. As in George. 

Forest Whittaker is appealing, as an American whose travels are prompted by an unspecified mess at home. His bonding with a little girl (Alicia Zapien) may be as exploitative as anything ever served up by a movie, but anyone who pauses to notice this in film's post-disaster confusion is autistically disengaged from the cinematic experience.

Other interesting Americans include Matthew Fox, James LeGros, and Bruce McGill. Mr Fox apparently owes his very serious billing to Lost. Nobody said that this was a perfect world.

5. As the foreigners who may or may not be engaged in the terrorist plot, Eduardo Noriega, Edgar Ramirez, and Sad Taghmaoui are all terrific. Mr Taghmaoui is particularly fine as the outsider who is able to size up every opportunity thrown his way by distracted opponents. I hope that Mr Noriega will go on to break many hearts in English, before Mr Ramirez breaks their boyfriends' knees.

And as Veronica, the femme fatale whose personal agenda only an idiot would claim to fathom, Ayalet Zurer beats everybody for toxic poise. I hope that we get to see a lot more of her, too.

6. Finally, there is Salamanca, the Spanish university town (known as the Golden City because of its warm sandstone buildings) and its beautiful Plaza Mayor, which I'm quite sure wasn't harmed in the least by the filmmaking. At least one chase scene may have audiences thinking of The Bourne Ultimatum. Like everything else about Vantage Point, this one is shorter. Mr Travis does not outstay his welcome. (February 2008)

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