Ok, bored in my room one night, I decided to vent my frustrations on a movie that I had seen recently; Vantage Point, a political thriller from the dark ages (2008). The film is basically a by the numbers, join the dots exercise (if 90% of the dots had already been connected). The film (much like Hitler) gets the job done well enough, but it seems pretentious, as if it has achieved some great feat when there are countless other political thrillers that share similar ideas – American traitors, plots to assassinate the president, blah, blah. They’re not that difficult to create, all you need is the enemy of the day (whether it be Muslims, the Chinese or Communists) in a complex plot that involves a traitor linked to the American government. That is the reason why I have chosen this film as my first review.
Director Pete Travis created Vantage Point in an experiment when he inserted a copy of Groundhog Day, a book on the conspiracies surrounding JFK’s assassination and examples of Muslim extremist propaganda into the generic American political thriller generator. The film is set in Salamanca, Spain where an anti-terror conference attended by the World’s leaders is taking place. Typically, terrorists attack the conference, and President Ashton (William Hurt) is gunned down by a marksman, (gold star if you didn’t see that coming). Moments later a bomb goes off at the plaza where the conference is taking place, which effectively scatters human limbs and causes trepidation among the masses. The simple attack is revealed to be part of a much larger plot masterminded rather publicly at the plaza. For instance, the terrorists quote their plans and motivations in public like they are suffering from “Plot Element Tourette’s Syndrome”, which affects pantomime characters.
Getting back on track, the terrorists’ leader uses an iphone (or at least that’s what I think it is) that is synchronised to various devices round the plaza, which are vital to their plot; such as a fan (you’ll get why if you watch the film), and the bomb itself. I was unaware an iphone could be used to carry out a devastating terrorist attack; ‘Do you want to assassinate the American President? There’s even an app for that'. It turns out the President was actually a decoy, a look-alike, with the actual President situated at a luxurious hotel. The terrorists know this and shot the decoy to cause a distraction while they snatch the real McCoy. As I was watching the film, I began to wonder how looking just like the president would affect your life; imagining it to be like a 70’s sitcom filled with mishap for the protagonist due to mistaken identity. Then I realised I missed a good ten minutes so I had to re-wind, doubting very much I had missed anything.
Anyhow, the rest of the plot unfolds how you would expect; there’s an American traitor - if you didn’t guess who, then you deserve to be slapped around the face by Sloth from the Goonies - the terrorists turn out to be linked to a Muslim extremist group, naturally, and I’m going to shock you here so hold onto your socks - the president is saved and the bad guys lose. For a similar experience try dressing up as Uncle Sam and kiss an American flag for 90 minutes.
Okay so maybe the plot has been used more times than Jezebel, and is now painfully bleeding from every possible orifice, but the film’s real strength is in its framing device. We see events 15 minutes preceding and proceeding the attack from the perspective of several individuals, unveiling more of the plot each time; hence the back of the box tagline - ‘Can you solve the puzzle?’ Though, as we discover over the course of the film who the would be assassins are and what motivated them, it's as much of a challenge as solving an all purple jigsaw, made up of pieces exactly the same shape. The way it has been directed makes it one of the more original political thrillers, which is up there with beating a deaf, dumb and blind guy at chess. On the negative side this does essentially mean we just get to watch the President get shot over and over from various angles, like a John Wilkes Booth fantasy directed by J. J. Abrams.
The casting department did a tolerable job, hiring several impressive actors; Dennis Quad, Matthew Fox, William Hurt, Forest Whitaker and Sigourney Weaver. Like the illegal foreign labourers in my basement, they get the job done cheaply and decently enough; especially considering the script they had to work with. As good as the actors may be, the dreadful writing and lack of real screen time for the majority of the characters means they aren’t amply developed, not unlike a 13 year old girl. Take William Hurt for example, he is supposed to be the American President but he has all the appeal of a mould smoothie. Who was he running against for office - Josef Fritzl and Megatron? You know he shouldn’t be the President when he reminds you of his role in Mr Brooks, representing serial killer Earl Brooks’s psychotic alter ego. But I digress, maybe I’m being unfair because in my eyes after real life presidents such as the unintentionally comedic Bush, and the down to Earth Obama, the standards for on-screen presidents have risen; no longer are grumpy but painfully patriotic presidents sufficient, I want to see some personality.
Forest Whitaker plays Howard Lewis, your typical American tourist – which means he is fat, obnoxious and believes he is more capable than the authorities in catching the marksman. Cue him running around filming everything in sight; because you know, that worked so well for the clueless burkes in Cloverfield and Diary of the dead didn’t it? Fortunately there are only short, infrequent moments of ‘first person camera view’, presumably because Pete Travis realised that overusing the technique is as smart as fellating the barrel of a .44 magnum wielded by Harry Callahan. Speaking of stereotypes - Enrique (Eduardo Noriega) is a Spanish cop dedicated to protecting the Mayor of Salamanca, a duty that he attempts to fulfil after the decoy president is shot, but is opposed by Agent Barnes (Dennis Quad), possibly out of fear that Enrique’s effectiveness could put the Secret Service to shame. As the SS (not that one) question the Spaniard as to why he was running towards the president moments after the shooting, Enrique realises he is out of his depth and proceeds to do what is known as a ‘Charles de menezes’ – running away from armed authorities who believe you are a terrorist. Perhaps for his next smart move he’ll circumcise himself with a rusty chainsaw whilst listening to Lady Gaga’s ‘Just Dance’.
As I mentioned previously, there is a traitor - Agent Taylor, who is graciously played by Matthew Fox for all of ten minutes in total, disappearing as quickly as the invisible man’s morals for most of the film. He vanishes after investigating a possible sniper position, demanding that he should go on his own because if he is wrong then he will take the blame and not his fellow agents; when watching this I remember thinking - ‘hmmm I’ll look forward to him betraying everyone’. Well surprise, surprise, he returns near the end as the ‘surprise’ traitor, which would have had a greater impact if he had enough screen time so we could remember who he was, and if it wasn’t required for a movie of this nature to have an American traitor much the same way that the religious are required to be judgemental. Logic indicates that he is the traitor, as he ticks all the boxes on the traitor application form (created by Albert Wesker), including the ‘prone to long disappearances with a dodgy excuse for leaving in the first place’ requirement.
The only two characters that I thought were written to a decent standard were Agent Barnes and Rex Brooks (Sigourney Weaver), an American TV news producer. Firstly because Barnes (Quad) gets the most screen time, which gives him a more rounded personality, making him more identifiable since he reacts how you would expect –trying to protect the president against the odds on account of him being in the secret service. He is even given a relevant back-story, which shows his weakness (he was shot during his last assignment and has since lost his confidence). Sigourney Weaver’s character is also convincing, because she plays a turd, which is how you would imagine a TV news producer. The role of the turd is portrayed so well, you increasingly hate her during her limited screen time; wanting to carve her into small pieces and serve the remains as Chow Mein in your local Chinese take-away. This is a perfectly realistic depiction, as reporters are supposed to be hated more than Gary Glitter at Butlins during the summer holidays.
Lastly, we have the terrorists themselves, who are Muslims; just in case the audience is allergic to innovation. Typically they are simply evil; because children’s tears power the Islamic faith (if you judge them by the way they're represented in the entertainment industry). One of the terrorists, Javier (Edgar Ramirez), is motivated to save his brother held captive by the rest of the group, but one can assume his character is intended to add a sympathetic element simply to make the situation seem less black and white - (it totally still is, mind).
The balanced cast deceives you into believing the movie may actually be written by someone who knew what they were doing, and not by a dead monkey. Picture this; you are given a basket that is said to be full of kittens, happily (as you think you have a basket full of cuteness and joy) you peep inside, only to find they are all dead and putrid. That is basically Vantage Point’s script in a nutshell.
Before concluding, I would like to point out the main reason why this film made me go into an epileptic fit, was the conclusion. Everything up to this point I could take, and of course I knew that America was going to prevail, but the way they did it is so ground-breaking in terms of diabolicalness. * Readers wishing to keep their sanity please look away now *. The little Spanish girl Anna, who Forest Whitaker grows a rather creepy attachment to, is searching for her mum in the aftermath of the explosion, inadvertently running out into the middle of the road and in front of the ambulance the two remaining terrorists are using to escape. The driver swerves out of the way, does a barrel roll, crashes straight into oncoming traffic, which fatally injuries the terrorists, allowing agent Barnes to rescue the president and finish the surviving terrorists off. But why would they swerve out the way? They were winning, they had the advantage. They were responsible for killing many government officials and innocents that day, not to mention abducting the most important man on the planet; but at a vital moment gain compassion for a girl who, frankly, was lucky to survive the blast from the bomb that they planted. It kills all sense of logic with a potato masher. The director should have just recorded 90 minutes of him bludgeoning goats to death, it would be a movie that would have been less painful to watch and arguably make more sense.
"...The fuck is this shit?"