Thriller ‘Vantage Point’ misses target


One of my favorite movies of the past decade was 2000’s “Memento.” What was intriguing about the film was that the story was bland, but the presentation was excellent. It showed that filmmakers were willing to experiment with new ways to structure a narrative.

This aim of using new storytelling techniques was the idea rookie director Pete Travis had for “Vantage Point.” The movie focuses on one event – an assassination attempt on United States President Ashton (William Hurt) as he is giving a speech in Spain. However, this event is shown from the perspectives of eight different individuals, including secret service agent Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid). Each character has a piece of information that together reveals a story rife with conspiracy, lies and betrayal.

The success of “Vantage Point” depends on how well it executes the technique of using different views of the same event. This is a mixed bag, as it does some things right and some wrong. Travis succeeds in keeping audiences engaged with small bits and pieces of information throughout the film. There is a constant sense of mystery as characters figure out what is going on and who is responsible. This is partially due to the film’s shortened run time but also in part to some clever placement of information.

But the idea, while an interesting concept, quickly becomes annoying. Travis’ persistent use of recaps during the film is exasperating. After seeing everything from a certain character’s perspective, Travis does a very cheesy, fast-motion rewind of everything we’ve just seen. Keep in mind that “Point” isn’t long nor confusing, so seeing the last 10 minutes of film rewound is pointless. And after seeing this five times, it gets really old and frustrating.

And then there are the loads of recycled shots. I understand that, given the nature of the film, we’d see a couple scenes a few times, but Travis reuses shots over and over again. He doesn’t even attempt to add some variety – these shots are the exact same ones, and we see them at least five times. This alone came close to ruining the concept for me, but thankfully it’s balanced out by the intelligent flow of information.

With a structure that only partially works, a lot of faith was placed on the story. Unfortunately, Travis settles for a standard, cliché conspiracy plot. I’m no psychic, but I was able to see nearly every plot twist before it happened. And most of these surprises are so unbelievable that they just don’t work.

The story’s only upside is that it focuses solely on one event, with no back story to get in the way. This was a smart move, since movies are often bogged down by unnecessary information of characters’ pasts. However, there is also no strong conclusion, which isn’t so great. None of the characters’ choices or actions have any lasting impact because we don’t get to see what happens as a result of the assassination. It effectively makes the story pointless. But given the amount of absurd coincidences and plot holes, this could be a good thing.

“Point” is very well paced, possibly the one thing which kept me interested. The action kicks off right away and the intensity never stops. And even though the runtime is short, at 90 minutes, “Point” never felt rushed. The action helps keep the pacing in check. The car chases and gun fights are alright, but you will really have to suspend all belief to appreciate them. Nevertheless, they help move the film along.

“Vantage Point” has too many problems for me to recommend seeing it in theaters. But as a rental, I can see it being a nice, small distraction, something to keep you and some friends occupied for an afternoon. Unless you are absolutely desperate for an action film, wait for the DVD.