An attempted presidential assassination and a subsequent terrorist bombing receive the "Rashomon" treatment in "Vantage Point," an enthrallingly constructed thriller that becomes exceedingly ludicrous in the second half. Director Pete Travis and screenwriter Barry Levy, both making their feature film debut, keep the bowl rolling and aren't short on ambition, but the complexity with which it takes to juggle a large ensemble in this manner is something that ultimately intimidates them. They simply aren't fully up to the task, and finally throw their hands up in defeat as they turn the proceedings into a trite, far-fetched action pic.
At a public summit in a Spanish town square, U.S. President Ashton (William Hurt) has just taken the podium when he is shot down. Moments later, a bomb goes off, taking several innocent lives with it. These events, spanning twenty-three minutes in time, play and then replay themselves from a variety of different viewpointsnews producer Rex Brooks (Sigourney Weaver); recently reinstated Secret Service Agent Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid); camera-wielding tourist Howard Lewis (Forest Whitaker); shady crowd member Enrique (Eduardo Noriega), and President Ashton himselfas answers and ulterior motives are gradually revealed.
The tagline for "Vantage Point" is "Eight Strangers. Eight Points of View. One Truth," a claim that isn't altogether true. After five separate tellings from different perspectives, the film paints itself into a corner, does away with this gimmick and starts unveiling the story in conventional terms. What was the purpose of this intriguing structure if director Pete Travis wasn't going to follow through with it until the end? Before this shift occurs, however, the picture has already begun to fall apart, beginning with an illogical reveal from the President's side of things and then carrying through to a clunky climax that would have been more suitable in a 1980s Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle. The last thirty minutes are close to being nonsense, the limited pre-established timeline stretched to the brink as plot holes build up and the payoff relies on a series of ill-conceived coincidences. Less would have definitely been more in this case; if viewers squint their eyes hard enough, they might just be able to locate a kitchen sink lurking somewhere in the background.
The cast are used as chess pieces, their backgrounds painted in broad, oftentimes vague strokes. Dennis Quaid (2006's "American Dreamz
"), as Agent Thomas Barnes, and Matthew Fox (2006's "We Are Marshall
"), as fellow agent Kent Taylor, slap on serious faces of determination and ride that look out for the duration. Sigourney Weaver (2008's "Be Kind Rewind
"), as producer Rex Brooks, sits at a control panel and secretly wishes for meatier parts. As President Ashton, William Hurt (2007's "Mr. Brooks
") makes sure to appear like he might know more than he's letting on, and then takes a page from Harrison Ford in portraying the Commander in Chief. Of all the lead actors, Forest Whitaker (2007's "The Great Debaters
") is the one that stands out; his role as bystander Howard Lewis is the most developed, has the most emotional growth, and gets the best of the film's six sections. Whitaker's reaction in the last scene to what he has witnessed and what he realizes he has in his life feels authentic and rousingly human, more than just a pawn in the script's overall scheme.
"Vantage Point" opens with a lot of potential as it seeks to explore how a single event can be witnessed in completely different ways, with each person having a different story to tell. The maturity handed to this notion slowly and unfortunately dissipates the longer the film goes on, turning something thought-provoking into just another obvious, threadbare popcorn movie that spells out its messages and culminates with loud, overblown action set-pieces. In relation to what the picture promises, it fails to add up to anything with consequence. The best "Vantage Point" for audiences would be from a theater showing a better film.