There’s a summit in which world leaders from all around are talking about world peace. Or something like that. It could be a groundbreaking day, the news reporters tell us. The President of the United States (William Hurt) is about to deliver a speech. Security is at all sides. Suddenly, two shots are fired. The President is down. Everyone is in a mass panic. Explosions are now going off, too. What a concept! Can you imagine seeing this? Well, get used to it, because you’re going to see it eight times before Vantage Point draws to a close.
Apart from this basic set-up, everyone is going to have had a different experience when it comes to the details. So, we have to explore eight different points of view in order to uncover what “truly” happened on this day. The way this gimmick — and that’s all it turns out to be — is that we’ll see things from one person’s perspective, then we’ll pause, rewind to before the assassination attempt, and watch the same thing happen from someone else’s. We also usually leave the last story on some sort of cliffhanger that will be revealed in a following one, although once those reveals happen you’ll learn that they just seemed like cliffhangers.
The result is a tiresome motion picture. Things that the film thinks need to remain hidden wind up being rather pedestrian, major reveals are often predictable and aren’t hidden very well, and the repetitive nature of the film is going to make you groan every time we rewind and begin again. And we have to do this over and over again. There’s no stopping this idea once we get going.
It doesn’t do anything more than artificially hide the truth from us until about an hour in. One might think of Rashômon, but none of the stories really contradict each other. If they did, maybe we’d have a movie; we would have to decide who to believe. But Vantage Point just has each new story reveal a little bit more at each time, and any “contradiction” occurs simply because we have some new information that we didn’t have earlier. The story we’re being told is true, and we just don’t have all of the pieces to know that just yet.
The most effective moments of the film come early on, before we’re even sure that an assassination attempt has taken place. We see them unfold via the production truck of a news station. A reporter is down on the ground, there are a bunch of different cameras bringing the story to all of America, and it feels quite real. It’s also the first time we’ve seen the events transpire, so there’s also a horrifying freshness to it. Once we’ve seen it seven times, it’s not going to have the same sting.
What it all boils down to is generic thriller material. There’s a car chase, a short shootout, and then the film ends. You’ll be unsurprised to find out who is behind the terrorist attacks, and you’ll also be unsurprised who attempts to bring a resolution to them — hint: there’s only one character with even a touch of depth. Even despite how predictable the film is, you’re never going to have much of an idea why all of this happens; the motivations driving everyone are unclear and murky.
I’m not sure if Vantage Point holds up on closer inspection, and I don’t care enough to find out. It all depends on circumstance and coincidence, this I know, but I wonder if those coincidences actually work as far as the time and space established in the film are concerned. Maybe, maybe not. That I’m thinking about this and not the film’s content is a pretty clear indication that it doesn’t work. Every time it pauses and rewinds itself, you’ve got a few seconds to lose yourself in your own thoughts.
Essentially, this gimmick expands the running time by forcing us to watch the same movie over and over again. I wonder if it cut down on production time. Could they have filmed the movie in a shorter period of time if they just recorded all the different storylines at the same time? Probably, although that would require a lot of planning and might not have worked out all that well. Still, it would be interesting to see if that’s what was done.
There are some rather big names in this film, even though none of them get a lot to do. when the perspective changes every 15 minutes, that comes with the territory. The most prominent roles go to the likes of Dennis Quaid, Matthew Fox, Forest Whitaker and William Hurt. The opening scene has Sigourney Weaver and Zoe Saldana, although they don’t get much time after the first sequence. Eduardo Noriega and Édgar Ramírez, Saïd Taghmaoui, Ayelet Zurer, Richard T. Jones and Bruce McGill also have roles, but you’re unlikely to go see a film just for them.
Vantage Point is a meaningless, frustrating motion picture. It starts out strong, depicting a terrorist attack just like we might see it on a very well-prepared news channel. It degenerates as it plays, and eventually loses all purpose by the time it falls back into thriller clichés. You’re going to groan a lot with this one, as the gimmick responsible for inflating its running time — and nothing more — winds up making you re-watch the same series of events over and over again.