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Published: Friday, 2/22/2008

Movie review: Vantage Point ****

BY NANCIANN CHERRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Conventional wisdom says that January and February are reserved for films that can't hold their own against strong competition.

Vantage Point blows conventional wisdom out of the water. For most of the 90-minute film I was sitting on the edge of my seat, and if there were a few leaps of logic, the story and the action carried me right through them with no thought of challenge.

The story takes place in the historic city of Salamanca, Spain, where world leaders are meeting to sign an agreement to cooperate in the fight against terrorism.

In the trailer of Global News Network, producer Rex Brooks calls the shots on the many cameras and newscasters covering the event. Despite some protests outside the city's central plaza, all goes well as U.S. President Ashton, who has orchestrated the agreement, is introduced by Salamanca's mayor, then steps to the lectern and acknowledges the cheers and applause.

Two shots ring out. President Ashton is down. Secret Service agents rush to help. A man in the crowd videotaping the event looks stunned. Another man runs across the dais and is tackled by the Secret Service. "I'm a cop," the tackled man protests. "I'm here to protect the mayor."

In the GNN trailer, Brooks is momentarily shocked; then her news instincts take over and she barks out orders to her crew. Before they can react, there's a huge explosion, and when the smoke clears, the city's plaza is destroyed and bodies litter the landscape.

I'm not giving anything away here. This all happens within the first five or so minutes of Vantage Point, and viewers will see the scene again and again as the action rewinds and the story is told from the perspective of different people. Some of what each person knows will be important, much information will be useless.

For his inaugural screenplay, Barry Levy has come up with a gripping story built around themes that have become all too familiar in the modern world. It constantly fascinates as pieces of the puzzle are slowly revealed. One person's interpretation of an event may not be the same as another's. Which is relevant? Is either relevant? Who gets to decide?

Key characters include Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid), a Secret Service agent returning to duty for the first time since being shot protecting the president a year earlier; Kent Taylor (Matthew Fox), Barnes' partner, who is in charge of the Secret Service detail; Brooks, the producer (Sigourney Weaver), whose various television sets present their own disparate points of view; Howard Lewis (Forest Whitaker), an American tourist videotaping the events to show his family back home; and Enrique (Spanish actor Eduardo Noriega), the mayor's bodyguard, who believes his lover, Veronica (Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer), is cheating on him with Javier (Venezuelan actor Edgar Ramirez).

The thriller is directed by Peter Travis, who learned a thing or two about terrorism in his film Omagh, about the 1998 bombing in Omagh, Northern Ireland. Travis maintains a fine balance between the rewinds to different points of view and the action scenes.

Even the end of Vantage Point, when most of the good guys and the bad guys have been revealed and the film has become a fairly standard action movie, is still exciting, with an intense chase scene to rival those of the Jason Bourne franchise.

If I have any problems with Vantage Point, they are personal. Using the assassination of a world leader and the wanton death of innocents as fodder for entertainment gives me pause. It's impossible not to think of the 2004 Madrid train bombings. Why this should be more bothersome than, say, a fictional account of World War II is something I have yet to figure out.

Still, the fact that I'm thinking about it a week after I saw Vantage Point makes it obvious that director Travis and his talented cast did their jobs very well indeed.

Contact Nanciann Cherry at: ncherry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6130.



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