Over the past few years, the early months of the year have become a rut when it comes to what is released into theaters. Usually at this time of year we complain about the lack of originality coming out of Hollywood and find ourselves eagerly waiting for something fresh to be released at the multiplexes. I can understand why Jumper was disregarded considering it’s superficial storyline and poor writing, but when it comes to something like Vantage Point- an ambitious action film that wants to do things differently and add something unique to a tried and true genre- I can’t understand why it’s ignored as if it were any other early of the year piece of trash. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the film involves terrorism and other movies who have tackled the same subject have crashed and burned lately. I say it’s okay as long as the film puts more emphasis on story, characters and entertainment rather than preach the audience to death. From my perspective, Vantage Point has all the former characteristics. It’s a gripping thriller helmed with the assured hand of a promising new director in Pete Travis.
Set in Salamanca, Spain at a peace summit on what is supposed to be a landmark day in modern history, President of the United States Ashton (William Hurt, 2007’s Mr. Brooks) has been working with the United Nations on a new plan to combat global terrorism and several ally nations have pledged their support. The party is spoiled when a small group of terrorists bring to fruition a planned attack that includes the attempted assassination of the President, and the bombing of the square the summit is being held in. The film is vicariously sprawled out over multiple characters, each with a unique point-of-view of the calamity: President Ashton, Secret Service Agents Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid) and Kent Taylor (Matthew Fox, 2006’s We Are Marshall), American tourist Howard Lewis (Forest Whitaker), Global News Network producer Rex Brooks (Sigourney Weaver), Salamanca native Marie (Dolores Heredia) and her daughter Anna (Alicia Zapien), and the terrorists themselves (Edgar Ramirez, Said Taghmaoui, Ayelet Zurer, and Eduardo Noriega).
The way writer Barry L. Levy unfolds his story is really quite extraordinary. The viewer learns a new piece of the puzzle each time the movie switches from one character to another. With the given scenario, it would be understandable if, in the wrong hands, the film came off as convoluted but newcomer feature film director Pete Travis proves himself more than capable. Each individual’s story gets an equal share, the film rarely feels uneven and none of the characters are underused nor do they outstay their welcome by hogging time away from the others. The film is not without a plot hole or two, but overall it is so engaging that forgiveness can be granted with open arms. On the technical side of things, the film is also quite a standout. The editing suits the picture very well and when it comes to action, Travis seems to know what he’s doing. The car chase near the in end of the film is, without question, the best and most intense I’ve seen since last summer’s The Bourne Ultimatum.
Where Vantage Point takes an extra step above the average popcorn movie is the treatment of its characters and by the end we can either sympathize or understand all of them. Thomas Barnes, for example, lives with nostalgia for being a hero. He took a bullet for President Ashton six months before the incident at hand and the Spain summit is his first assignment back on the job. Quiad does a great job letting this play into the plot by giving his character a sense of edginess and nervousness. Secondly, Forest Whitaker’s Howard Lewis plays a role in which an ordinary man must find courage in extraordinary circumstances but never is he your typical hero. With his character longing and hoping to see his wife and children again, Whitaker is able to give a palpable supporting turn. You can even find backstories among the terrorists, like that of Javier (Edgar Ramirez, 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum), abetted against his will by the other architects, who are holding his brother hostage, to assist them. The one exception would be that of Matthew Fox’s Kent Taylor, who’s reasons and motives for his actions are not explored enough.
Thus I felt that the film’s biggest weakness was it’s running time: 90 minutes that could have been expanded upon. It’s amazing that writer Levy and director Travis did such a fine job tying up lose ends and concluding on a near-perfect ending, but they missed a small opportunity to further character development, which would lead to more memorable performances. Nonetheless, Vantage Point is a terrific surprise with balls, brains, and even a heart. Audiences craving a thriller with more substance than what is found on prime-time TV will find themselves right at home here. Vantage Point is definitely worth a look.