Set in Salamanca, Spain, during an international counterterrorism summit, Vantage Point depicts an assassination attempt on the president of the United States from the perspective of five witnesses and, in the movie’s pièce de résistance, the members of the terror cell responsible for the attack. It’s a cast of characters the likes of which haven’t been seen together since Airport ’79: the hard-bitten TV news director (Sigourney Weaver) who barks things like, “Leave the editorializing to the people who get paid to have an opinion”; the Secret Service agent (Dennis Quaid) back on the job for the first time since he took a bullet in the line of duty; the conveniently camcorder-equipped American tourist (Forest Whitaker); and old POTUS himself, a freeze-dried specimen of Roosevelt-era statesmanship stiffly played by William Hurt. And I haven’t even gotten to the terrorists—a cabal of suitably brown-skinned jihadists straight out of central (Asia) casting.
Vantage Point, which was directed by Pete Travis, wants to be the Rashomon of presidential assassination thrillers, but it’s more like an entire season of 24 stripped down to its freeze-frame cliffhangers and recaps of last week’s episode. It all goes something like this: A crowd of journalists and onlookers jostles into a central square; the mayor of Salamanca delivers some opening remarks before ceding the stage to our commander in chief; and then, before he can get two words out, the prez goes down for the count.
Then, as if God Himself had hit the rewind button, everything we’ve just seen flits by in fast-reverse and we see it all again—and again and again and again—through another character’s eyes. The idea here, of course, is for each successive piece of Vantage Point‘s narrative jigsaw to give us some crucial information we don’t already have. But for every scene that fulfills that goal, Travis gives us a dozen others that carry the distinct feeling of déjà vu. (Hurt stunt-falls so many times that he seems to be auditioning for a Gerald Ford biopic.)
Here is a movie to stop the auteur theory dead in its tracks. Clearly, the British-born Travis was recruited for Vantage Point on the basis of his excellent 2004 debut feature, Omagh, which restaged the events leading up to and following a devastating 1998 car bombing on a crowded retail street in the titular Northern Irish town. Produced by Paul Greengrass, and conceived as something of a companion film to his own Bloody Sunday, there wasn’t a moment in Omagh that rang false. There’s not a single one in Vantage Point that rings true.
The multiple perspectives are all foreplay, it turns out, for an orgiastic third-act car chase during which the movie’s story threads converge in a way that makes Paul Haggis seem like a master of Balzacian realism. As car chases go, it’s not half bad; but nothing in Vantage Point quickens the pulse as much as the realization that, with each successive turn of the wheel, we come one step closer to the end.