Director: Pete Travis
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Matthew Fox, Forest Whitaker, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver
UK Release date: 7 March 2008
Certificate: 12 (90 mins)
It's hard to find fault with Vantage Point, because it sets its stall out in the opening ten minutes and proceeds to give its audience exactly what it promises: an involving, adrenaline-rousing package of loud bombs and suspicion. The film portrays an assassination attempt on the US President through the narratives of half a dozen bystanders, each rewound to noon in Salamanca, Spain, at the beginning of an anti-terrorism summit.
Criticising its characters, plucked from out of the minuscule Hollywood imagination (battle-hardened secret service agent - in you go - jealous Spaniard distracted from his job by thoughts of beautiful but unfaithful girlfriend - why not!), or its script ('We don't have to act strong: we have to be strong'), or even its attempts at political relevancy (wait till you hear the reasons for the assassination attempt...poor Morocco), would be like walking into a fashion show and criticising the models for not being intelligent enough. Likewise I advise you, on finding any reference to Kurosawa's Rashomon in any other review, to cease reading straight away for fear of any other names being dropped on you from great pretentious heights.
Vantage Point clocks in at a condensed 90 minutes and as an action spectacle it works. If you're sitting in a cinema waiting for it to begin then you either enjoy action films or one of love's many permutations is seated beside you, telling you how much he/she loved The Bourne Ultimatum. Without waiting for the context to set (the whole 'groundbreaking alliance' against the 'rising tide of global terror' sounds like Star Wars anyway) the narratives kick in, dragging you along via some headspinning rewinds into the alleyways of Salamanca. The handling of the stories is skilled enough so that, like a good episode of 24, you begin to want to know what's happening next in the off-screen narratives. It's that careful balancing of concealment, desire and satisfaction that keep the interest in the stories running.
Despite the destructive content of the film, this intertwined structure presents an affirmative vision of reality. Affirmative in the way that the nicer fairy tales are affirmative: in the order and meaning that these narratives give to the lives they depict. Death (for the main characters at least) isn't random, all suffering can be redeemed by future actions, with neatly arranged challenges available to the protagonists to overcome. The film - in fact, most of this genre - creates, moves and culminates a life in two hours.
If it feels odd that I should be writing about this when the review began with proclaiming the merits of judging the film on its own standards, then that's because it was an odd experience leaving the cinema, adrenaline still flowing after the final car chase, ears adjusting after having watched half a dozen assassination attempts close up. One can't help but wonder, What have I just seen?, sitting on the bus home, with no one outside trying to blow it up, and the drizzle making people worry about their Saturday-night hair rather than global terror. It's strange, at this angle, to pay to take pleasure in watching something get destroyed and then have heroes save the day. In many ways it is the purchasing of an emotional and physical experience, wherein we trust in the creators to make us feel scared, tense, and then satisfied.
I don't mean that as a criticism, and even if it were, it would be aimed at my own Lord of the Rings-loving life as much as anyone. But I think that a big part of living out a faith is trying to see as straight as possible, and having seen clearly, then calling a blunt earth-removal tool a spade. Vantage Point is a very good action film; it's also a £7 comforting device that lasts as long as the adrenaline takes to fade.