Saturday, July 5, 2008

Summer movie rentals I: Vantage Point

Caution: Spoilers

We rented Vantage Point the other day. This is a political thriller in which the same half-hour in an action-filled day is told from different points of view, hence the name, Vantage Point. The plot hinges around a plot to assassinate the president of the United States at an anti-terrorism summit being held in Salamanca, Spain. It’s topical and action-packed and mildly suspenseful.

However, there were some problems, some trivial, some not. Among the trivial: as a fan of all-things Spanish, I can’t for the life of me understand why they would set the movie in Spain, but film it in Mexico. That’s right: all the exterior scenes, including the never-ending chase that occupies the last half hour of the movie, were filmed in Mexico City. They even built a replica of Salamanca’s Plaza Mayor, in Mexico City. If you’re going to take the trouble to run an entire production in Mexico, why not just set it in Mexico? Here’s the thing: the movie gains nothing dramatically from being set in Spain, and therefore would lose nothing dramatically by being set in Mexico.

Quibble 2: the last third of the movie is taken up with a long chase that takes place after the last big reveal. Thus, there are no more surprises and no betrayals, so by the time the chase ends and everything is resolved it all feels anticlimactic. This seriously undermines the film’s central gimmick: that of showing the action from different points of view. This sort of gimmick implicitly promises that the audience will see something new from yet another point of view as part of the film’s resolution; the last reveal, as it were. There is no last reveal, which, in turn, shows the gimmick for what it is: simply a gimmick, and not well thought out, either.

Quibble 3: It seems to me that the whole point of showing different points of view is to examine relative truth; in other words, every change of point of view changes the tone of the film because we are not just seeing what is happening from a new angle, but we are also getting a different interpretation of what we are seeing. The problem with Vantage Point is that this change of tone does not occur. Instead of a new twist on what we are seeing, all that happens is a visual “meanwhile, back at the ranch.”

Quibble 4: I lied when I said there were no reveals at the end, or that nothing new happens. In fact, the happy ending occurs because the main terrorist—who has spent the entire movie showing himself to be a ruthless killer, not shy about blowing up an entire plaza full of innocent people to get what he wants—swerves to miss an innocent child in the street. He swerves, tips over, and the game’s up. Sorry if I’ve ruined it for you. Does this mean that the terrorist is a complicated guy who can’t be judged as bad because he won’t run over a child? Or does it mean that his character is not well thought-out? I think the filmmakers were aiming for the first, but achieved the second.

So: some good performances, especially by Dennis Quaid. A reasonably entertaining chase through the streets of Mex—er—Salamanca. But in the end, for me, anyway, unsatisfying.

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