Perhaps more so than other hobbyists and enthusiasts, the cinephile must brace himself for disillusionment, which comes to him more frequently than parallel disappointments do to fans and dabblers in other fields. It is not that a football fan does not frequently suffer, but he does not see his expectations so recurrently shattered. A football fan, or fan of any sport, if he is moderately knowledgeable, does not often see his predictions proved grossly inaccurate. If he believes his team a championship contender, and they instead finish 10-2, he has suffered only two true disappointments in twelve games, a pace which any lover of movies envies, for the lover of movies is plagued by the preview.
Even an experienced and circumspect moviegoer cannot completely inoculate himself from heartbreak and letdown, for the artful editor, in selecting certain shots and moments that run no more than a couple minutes out of a movie that may last hours, has fashioned a deceptive trailer. In all but the most lopsided of football games, a losing team is yet able to cobble together intermittent moments of competence and even artistry. The losing team nearly always scores, and only rarely does the winning team never punt the ball, or at least fumble or suffer a sack. The difference is that the football fan of the losing team has not been shown these bright moments beforehand to the exclusion of everything else, whereas the wretched cinephile, no matter his cynicism, must yield at least a little to the enticements of a trailer. These repeated disappointments are exacerbated by the fact that when a movie disappoints, the entire theater suffers, whereas when a football team underachieves the other contingent of fans is happy. There is a guarantee of balance in football, but in cinema, when a movie is a disaster, only the director’s ex-wife rejoices.
Which brings us to Vantage Point. Advertisements for this particular flick have been around for a very long time by the standards of the industry. We have seen a solid cast assembled and the premise is alluring. The shots we have glimpsed were competently taken. No big name director was at the helm but the project, having passed through the filter of a trailer, had come out looking as if it had originated from a good movie. It is your humble blogger’s duty, as critic, to slice away the mendacity of advertising and expose what could not pass through the filter.
Set in the current political climate but linked to no specific year or administration, the story takes place in Salamanca, Spain, on the occasion of a visit by the president of the United States. As Secret Servicemen take the scene and news crews record it, the president arrives at the Plaza Mayor to give a speech, but an assassination attempt followed by bomb explosions derail the proceedings. From the vantage point of several different characters, we view and review the event nearly to the limits of human endurance.
If a single flaw in the movie were to be cited which no amount of excellence in other aspects of filmmaking could overcome, it would be the very structure of the story. No fewer than seven times that I can recall, a storyline progressed to the threshold of the climax only to freeze, rewind, and finally start again at the beginning from a different vantage point. This very soon grows tedious and quickly passes from tediousness to a point where the viewer simply stares in tumescent disbelief that the filmmakers are going to make us sit through the same scene yet again.
Sadly, the structure of the film is not its only impediment to pleasure. It suffers from such an earnest proclivity for the dramatic that it sweeps aside realism in its pursuit, crossing characters with improbable coincidence, or giving them absurd behavior in order to place them in more precarious circumstances. Sometimes realism is eschewed for no better excuse than what I take to be rank laziness, and sometimes for no discernible reason at all. The procedures and protocols of the Secret Service, for instance, do not strike one as thoroughly fleshed out and genuine. In the Line of Fire, whether or not it was well researched, at least convinced one ignorant of such matters that it had been. Vantage Point does no such convincing. The crowd in the Plaza Mayor is full of faces that seem suspiciously New World, lacking the classic Castilian features, and the bits of Spanish that are tossed about often have a decidedly Latin American accent, excepting, of course, actor Eduardo Noriega. One character is magically teleported to a distant part of the city so that a scene of poignant reuniting may take place. The worst of it is to be witnessed in the president’s hotel suite, where the commander in chief and his advisers carry on in such a juvenile manner that one marvels at the puerility of the mind that conceived it.
When the seemingly interminable rewinds and replays are finally finished, ninety percent of the climactic scene is taken up by a car chase. It is the same car chase that the good reader saw last week, which was the same car chase he saw the week before and the week before that. But for the quicker cuts and more mobile camera it was the same car chase he saw in 1985. I have reached a point where, no matter its incongruity with the established character of the villain, rather than lead the hero on another dull, high velocity/multiple impact car chase, if no fresh and interesting perspective on vehicular pursuit can be found, I would prefer that he simply hand over the keys, turn himself in and end the movie a few minutes sooner. If the hero is the one being pursued, then he should allow himself to be shot and his offspring can catch the villain in the sequel.
One last flaw I will expound and then leave off, with the understanding that the enumeration of certain defects in the movie shall not be construed as denying or disparaging other defects contained in it. This last shortcoming is the entire terrorist enterprise, which is so grand in scale, so intricate in execution and so dependent upon a variety of players from a myriad of backgrounds that a credible explanation for how such an endeavor could be undertaken is quite simply an obligation on the part of the storytellers. There is nothing wrong with a fantastic conspiracy, even if it breaks through the bounds of what could reasonably occur in real life, so long as the filmmakers demonstrate how it might plausibly be put together. Such a demonstration would not only alleviate incredulity but could prove quite interesting in and of itself. Failing that, leave it in mystery. Don’t show us who carried it out, or at least not all of them. Don’t fill in all the details; leave the audience with the chill of unfulfilled suspicion. Make the investigation only a partial victory or, better yet, no victory at all. I merely offer some suggestions for when the movie is remade in 2032.