VANTAGE POINT, per its title, is a thriller that uses the device of showing us the same event from multiple perspectives. This could work – except that there’s not enough mystery in the original events in the way they’re presented for us to become intrigued by new revelations about them. Consequently, the different vantage points are less engrossing than they are repetitive – by the fourth time we return to 11:59 AM in Spain, the immediate response is a giggle, a groan or maybe both.
In fairness to director Pete Travis, it should be said at the outset that he stages explosions, invasions and especially car chases with thrilling flair – there’s an extended vehicular pursuit through the streets of Salamanca (played in the movie by Mexico City) that is reminiscent in a good way of the pedal-to-the-metal sequence in THE FRENCH CONNECTION. What Travis and writer Barry L. Levy do less successfully is tease out our curiosity – they don’t set up plot points so that reversals come as a surprise. Instead, we’re still processing the dense but not especially brain-teasing information as new information comes along; for all the effect it has, they might as well be telling the tale in linear fashion.
President Ashton (William Hurt) of the United States is scheduled to speak at an international anti-terrorism summit in Spain. However, shortly after he steps to the podium, he is shot – moments later, there is a massive explosion. Who is responsible? How did they pull it off? What will the U.S. government do about it? Can the larger plot be stopped?
In the current climate, one can’t really accuse VANTAGE POINT of being apolitical – we do know where Ashton stands on at least one controversial issue – but the filmmakers wind up with fairly generic terrorists. At the end, we’re no wiser to their specific goals than we are at the beginning, despite all that delving into details. We also don’t get many misleads to make us surprised – when a Secret Service agent reacts to something he sees on a videotape, we don’t know what he’s looking at, so when we find out what he’s seen, our reaction is less amazement than acceptance: after all, it’s not as though we’ve been set up to expect to see something else instead.
Hurt plays the Commander in Chief as a man of integrity and Dennis Quaid is fierce as can be as a loyal bodyguard. Forest Whitaker is engaging as a tourist caught up in the chaos and Sigourney Weaver does some good character work as a news professional straining to balance personal reaction with getting the job done.
VANTAGE POINT has some good stuff in it, but the story it has to tell and the method it employs to tell it are at odds with one another.