“Vantage Point” offers no conclusive view

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By KATHERINE GYPSON
Observer Staff
Feb. 27, 2008

The postponement of an entire season of Fox’s Emmy-winning hit terrorism drama “24” has turned out to be one of the major casualties of the recently ended Writer’s Guild strike.

When the network announced that counter terrorist unit agent Jack Bauer would not be returning to television until the spring of 2009, a legion of fans lost their weekly fix of absurdly enjoyable plot twists, ever-deceptive characters and good old-fashioned torture.

In some ways, the recently released “Vantage Point” from Columbia Pictures aims to be the poor man’s “24.”

Secret Service Agents Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid, center) and Kent Taylor (Matthew Fox, right) look at video footage shot by an American tourist, Howard Lewis (Forest Whitaker, left.) Photo by Daniel Daza and courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Told again and again from six different points of view, including that of a Secret Service agent (Dennis Quaid), a reluctant assassin (Edgar Ramirez) and an American tourist (an under-used Forrest Whitaker), “Vantage Point” tries very hard to take this effective television formula, mix it with one of the oldest storytelling tricks – the unreliability of what the eye sees — and make something new out of the traditional car chase and terrorists movie.

Unfortunately, the bulk of the movie is the opening conceit and anyone who has seen the ever-present trailer will be familiar with it, thus ruining a great deal of the suspense.

The film opens when world leaders from both Arab and Western countries meet in Spain to sign an historic agreement aimed at combating terrorism.

Moments after the summit begins, the American president (William Hurt), who is not all he seems to be, is shot.

Shortly afterwards, an enormous blast rips through the enclosed square. Perhaps the Secret Service should have vetted the location a bit more carefully. The blast killed hundreds of people and set off a fairly exciting chase sequence.

Depending on your interest in multiple perspectives and shifting viewpoints, the movie’s opening conceit is either a fascinating journey into the immediate effects of terrorism or an exercise in excruciating boredom.

The makers of “Vantage Point,” who were also responsible for the vastly superior Bourne trilogy, seem unaware of the first rule of drama – that if you introduce a gun in the first act, you better make sure it goes off by the third act.
In the end, “Vantage Point” spends too much time playing around with viewpoints before finishing abruptly with a host of unanswered questions.

American president (William Hurt) opens a world-terrorism summit in Spain. Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Perhaps, it’s unfair to hold a film like “Vantage Point” to such high standards.

The movie features beautifully shot locales and excellent performances from all of the cast members – no one phones in an action-movie performance this time around.

The ingredients for several great movies are all there – either an affecting terrorism drama or a thrilling, “24” style action flick – the filmmakers just never seemed to get around to deciding which movie it should be.

In theatres now. Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense violence and action, some disturbing images and brief strong language.

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