The Plot: During a political summit in Spain, the president of the United States is shot and multiple bombs are detonated around the assembly. In the ensuing chaos, news broadcast personnel, secret service agents, local law enforcement, and even uninvolved civilians attempt to discover the mystery behind the attack.
The Review: Much like the best episodes of the television series LOST, Vantage Point is chock full of unexpected plot twists and stupefying revelations. So much so, in fact, that I'm finding it hard to devise a review of the film without giving away any important plot points or surprising story elements. As such, you should be warned that this review may contain some minor spoilers, but none so influential to the plot that they will ruin the experience to watching the film.
Vantage Point begins with an unusual method of telling it's story. Within the first ten or fifteen minutes of the film the president (William Hurt) has already been shot and we witness the effects that this event has on a small group of people. Shortly thereafter the film pauses, "rewinds" itself, and retells the same events we've already seen, but through the eyes of a different individual. When all is said and done, the viewer will have experienced the shooting of the president and the events which immediately follow about five or six times. While this is certainly an original means of telling the story, I have to admit that I was a little annoyed by it after a while. It felt a bit more like a cheap stunt than a totally worthwhile plot device, but that is not to say that it doesn't work. Some people will accept the nonlinear storytelling more readily than others, but though it does get a bit tired after a while, it achieves what it is supposed to and the early events of the film unfold in an intriguing enough way. My biggest complaint involving the staging of the movie is that because the story jumps around so much there are certain elements of it's timeline that don't seem to sync up properly. If you look closely enough at the progression of the film, it's not hard to notice that during some segments certain events occur much more or less rapidly than the same events do in other segments when the time between them isn't as necessary to see fleshed out. Some people might call that a picky critique, but I would call it a flaw on account of the filmmakers. Again, not a weakness that ruins the film, but more-so one that should provide some good argumentative conversation with your friends after viewing it.
Due to the unconventional set-up of the film which allows the focus to fall on so many different characters, no one actor or actress truly feels as though they are the main character for very long. When all is said and done Dennis Quaid's secret service agent character Thomas Barnes is the most obvious candidate for the title of lead character, but he doesn't necessarily earn this distinction with a superior amount of screen time until near the movie's climax. Along the way we see the events of the political summit gone wrong through the eyes of a multitude of different characters. Perhaps the most short-changed is Sigourney Weaver, who plays the woman in charge of the news crew which is televising the event. Her segment is the first of the film, though when the story moves on to the other characters, hers is essentially forgotten and, in hindsight, really served no use in the story other than to introduce the audience to the events transpiring at the summit. Similarly, Eduardo Noriega's character, a local Spanish police officer, didn't seem nearly as important to the plot as he should have been. His character seemed pretty interesting, though it would appear that the details of his involvement in the assassination were lost in an effort to spend more time with other individuals and events.
Another character who is the focus of his own segment is a vacationing civilian with a video camera played by Forest Whitaker. For a man of such great talent, Whitaker seemed to me to be rather heinously overacting at several points during this film, which isn't necessarily surprising when you consider the role that he is playing. He plays the emotional role that is supposed to tug on the viewers' heart strings amidst the chaos which envelops the rest of the running time. His story is intertwined with that of an innocent little girl (Alicia Zapien), and it seemed as though the writers really had to stretch to get her and Whitaker to interact through several parts of the movie. In the same way that I enjoyed Paul Haggis' 2004 film Crash, but was annoyed by some of it's melodrama, the misuse of Forest Whitaker's character as a selfless every-man meant primarily to warm the viewers' hearts felt a bit cheap. Other actors of note in Vantage Point are Matthew Fox as one of Barnes' fellow secret service agents, Edgar Ramirez as a man who is being forced to participate in something he wishes he weren't a part of, and Saïd Tghmaoui as a man that you'll love to hate (or is that hate to love?).
The characters aside, Vantage Point has a lot to offer as a way to occupy a few hours of your time. The premise is rather shallow, but the plot is filled with enough twists, turns, and flat out surprises to catch anyone off guard; and really, who doesn't love a little mystery in their suspense thrillers? Speaking of which, this film has no shortage of suspense or thrills. There are chase scenes and explosions abound in Vantage Point, but the highlight of the movie's action sequences has got to be the car chase leading up to it's climax. I have openly stated before that Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof provides my all-time favorite car chase, but the one in this movie is of a completely different breed. As opposed to the wide open dirt roads and countrysides of Tarantino's half of Grindhouse, Vantage Point's chase scene between agent Barnes and some of the film's villains takes place in the narrow, crowded streets of Spain. Weaving in and out of lines of cars instead of old fences and cows provides for a hell of a gripping action sequence, which is almost reason enough alone to check out the film.
The Verdict: The unconventional method that the makers of Vantage Point chose to use to tell their story will certainly alienate this film from some of it's potential audience, but without it there wouldn't be much of a point in watching it's events unfold in the first place. Some great acting and superbly thrilling action sequences manage to more than balance out the accompanying sub-par performances and plot holes. While it surely won't go down in history as an example of flawless filmmaking or storytelling, Vantage Point is certainly original and gripping enough to be worthy of at least a viewing or two.