Vantage Point

2008-02-22 (General release)

Angie (Zoe Saldana) is frustrated. That much is clear on her face as she adjusts her mic and starts speaking on air. Setting the stage for U.S. President Ashton’s (William Hurt) visit to Salamanca, Spain, Angie notes not only the fact that he’s announcing a “new, groundbreaking alliance in the war against terror,” but also hints at international resistance to the American behemoth. Back in the GNN truck, her producer Rex (Sigourney Weaver) is fuming. “Shut her down,” she instructs a minion. “What the hell was that!?” she asks. Angie comes ready with a vaguely informed rebellion: “Not everyone loves us, Rex.”

Ah yes. This would be the seeming point of departure for Vantage Point, a gimmicky look at an attempted presidential assassination. More precisely, it’s a set of gimmicky looks, broken up into multiple sections, each rewinding back to “23 minutes earlier” to show the violence (shooting and bombing) from a different perspective. Each look at the event offers slightly more information, even as the structure becomes less interesting, repetition yielding less percipience than tedium.

That said, the initial focus on the news team suggests a certain method, starting with the perspective that would seem to have the most scope (or at least a battery of cameras/playback monitors) but inevitably has the least understanding of what’s visible. No matter how righteous or right Angie may be, her role is to play dumb, as Rex finds a more ratings-grabby story, the return to duty of Secret Service agent Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid), recently sidelined by post-traumatic stress owing to a previous error in judgment on the job. Now he’s all Clint-Eastwoodish, popping pills and jumpy, the object of cruel scrutiny from fellow agents, though staunchly defended by mentee Kent Taylor (Matthew Fox), and determined to prove himself worthy of Ashton’s trust. In other words, he provides the perfect tabloidy back-story to the pomp-and-circumstancey business in the Spanish plaza, and so Rex pounces. Her squad pulls up footage of the error, zooming to Barnes’ contorted face in order to pump the “emotional” impact.

That is, Barnes provides another limited view, his strain to spot every potential window-curtain flutter or flash of light averting his focus from the actual problems in front of him. So that he can reconsider his steps and choice of focus following the shooting, Barnes is granted yet another, replayable view, this one recorded by a tourist, Howard (Forest Whitaker). His own recent history is not quite so sensationally troubled as Barnes’, but it does shape his current concerns: estranged from his wife and missing his child, Howard is intent on capturing all kinds of crowd reactions to the speeches in the plaza (though his apparent surprise at stumbling onto the event suggests that security isn’t precisely tight, a point underlined by the ease with which the terrorists make their attack). Howard’s apparently congenital friendliness has him conversing briefly with Suarez, who is played by the excellent but perpetually typecast Saïd Taghmaoui, meaning, as soon as he shows up, you know he’s involved in the plot against the prez.

The limits of imagination represented by Taghmaoui’s casting intimate the film’s broader problem, which is to say, its commitment to clichés. Just so, the U.S. representatives tend to deliver to expectations, embarking on brilliant car chases, intuitive heroism, and special attention to endangered children. (Even the nonheroic American is predictable, a belligerent advisor [Bruce McGill] urging an air strike against the country most likely to be harboring the assassins.) At the same time, the villains are blandly grim and pitiless, not so hard to pick out even in this ostensible crowd of possibilities. The man in the middle is local lawman Enrique (Eduardo Noriega), distracted by worries that the sultry woman of his dreams Veronica (Ayelet Zurer) is involved with someone else, the repeated view of her assignation with another man in the plaza legible in a number of ways, depending literally on the angle from which it’s viewed, not to mention the crucial point when the dialogue is added. (Her story is barely noted, though it does what it’s supposed to do, complicating Enrique’s focus and providing further evidence that sultry women of idealistic men’s dreams always make trouble.)

As Vantage Point becomes increasingly busy with personal betrayals and redemptions, the ostensible politics, reductive to begin with, fall by the wayside. Angie’s concern that “not everyone loves” the U.S. is turned inside out in the attention to American gallantry and skills, not to mention cunning. This movie administration’s most-discussed trick — the use of a double for the president — is the sort of thing for which Saddam Hussein, of all people, was regularly ridiculed in the U.S. press just a couple of years ago. Apparently, such judgment depends on your point of view.

RATING 4 / 10