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Zettel Film Reviews » Vantage Point – the subjectivity of perception

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Vantage Point – the subjectivity of perception

someone must have seen what happened

someone must have seen what happened

Vantage Point – Pete Travis

Is he raw about the rugby, chagrined about the cricket; morose about Manchester United, mourning Middlesbrough or even cheesed-off about Chelsea? These are heavy blows in the masculine game of life so perk up your partner and treat him to a good night out. This one even runs a full game’s-length of 90 minutes of edge-of-the-seat action and a clear satisfying result with no extra time. He’ll love it. And with the lovely Matthew Fox from LOST as an FBI agent there’s even some high-class eye-candy for the ladies.

Having now patronised everyone, you will gather this one’s strictly for fun. Though it’s a bit unsettling how quickly we have settled into accepting what the imminently, though not imminently enough, outgoing President Bush calls world “tourism” as the de rigueur context for Hollywood thrillers. Vantage Point has a neat device which all the fancy critics are likening to Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950). Five times we reprise the events leading up to an atrocity at a meeting in Spain to celebrate an agreement by world leaders to unite before what people who can pronounce ‘nuclear’ call terrorism. Shamefaced that I would not have made the Kurosawa connection, I’ll play the smart-ass by likening the technique to Kubrick’s seminal race-track heist – The Killing (1956). At least it was a thriller.

Sigourney Weaver’s TV Director handling the live feed; Dennis Quaid’s in-the-line-shocked lugubrious Presidential FBI guard; Forest Whittaker, armed only with a nicely product-placed Sony camera as a US tourist with the handy knack of still filming non-stop even while chasing a terrorist flat out on foot; plus a couple, well one and a half bad guy perspectives, enables us to see the well-mounted and shocking series of events from 5 different angles. Thankfully, just as the device is beginning to pall a bit the action opens out into real time and the neat, if implausible little plot unwinds nicely and twistily.

Quaid’s Thomas Barnes having already taken a bullet for William Hurt’s President Ashton, it’s a moot point whether he’s a good man to have around in a crisis or just a bad-vibe bodyguard. Seconds into his speech to a mixed bunch of either flag-waving or fist-shaking Spaniards, Barnes’s Presidential charge is gunned down. Travis and his 3-man team of editors handle the ensuing panic with great verve and skill. It is only too real and as the assassination is followed by further outrages, even five re-showings don’t quite exhaust our instinctive shock and most queasily of all, that can’t-look-away fascination that always unsettles my moral equilibrium. The ‘9/11 syndrome’.

Structurally the reprise technique serves the thriller narrative well as each ‘vantage point’ allows Travis to drip feed us the plot with just a little bit more revealed each time. Just as we sometimes laugh more at the joke we know is coming so Travis wrings a little more tension out of each re-enactment. The breathless pace never lets up and rushes past the plot implausibilities quickly enough to sustain credibility. Several times we find all is not quite what it seems and the twists are fun if not earth-shattering. The professional competence and craft Travis shows is matched by a strong effective cast.

One should not take such a transparently entertainment product seriously but apart from the unease terrorist-based thrillers induce in me there is a troubling anonymity here about who the bad guys are and worse – why they are. No effort is made to identify an organisation, an objective, or a purpose for which the protagonists blithely commit such barbaric acts of inhumanity. It’s as if ‘terrorist’ denotes a kind of separate ‘race’ of people with no rationale, political strategy, ideology or sense of humanity at all. The need for an endless supply of villains to feed the Hollywood movie assembly lines dangerously reinforces the simplistic, bellicose, inarticulate rhetoric that has dominated the world stage since the awful events of September 11th 2001.

I just begin to realise with sympathy what it must have been like during the post-war years for German men and women, born after the war, having to sit through those endless stereotypical Nazi villain movies with the appalling equation that German = Nazi = Evil and the unstated logical inference that therfore German = Evil. I rather think the same dangerous fallacy is being perpetrated today: just substitute Arab for German and Islamist for Nazi.

Hey lighten up. It IS just a movie. We don’t board a rollercoaster to analyse the Physics of movement – so get your ticket, strap yourself in and enjoy the ride. So what if you end up where you started – why not? It’s called fun. And sporting-wise its been a bad weekend for fun: we guys deserve a break from bad results; and the biggest storm of the decade that’s just about to break.

(March 2008)

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