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Vantage Point (2008) is no Kurosawa’s Rashomon, (1950)—but in all fairness what is?

Vantage Point is a 2008 political thriller by first time director Pete Travis that focuses on one 23-minute segment in time covering an assassination attempt on the President of the United States.  The film begins without development behind its characters; rather, action takes off in the first few minutes.  The premise is straightforward: view a Presidential assassination from eight character angles, each having a different take on the ensuing events.  Once a character sees what he or she was supposed to see, the film rewinds, and plays the same situation over with another character, theoretically revealing additional details of the 23 minute attack.

The 23 minutes is seen through the eyes of eight unrelated parties.  Dennis Quaid and Matthew Fox as Secret Services Agents, Forest Whitaker as a video taking tourist, William Hurt as the President and Sigourney Weaver as a producer of multinational news organization all star in principal roles.  These five actors/actresses are not exactly second rate talent. Weaver and Quaid put in the best performances without a doubt.

Because of the film’s technique using different characters that view the same 23 minutes and showing the audience what they perceive, Vantage Point is often compared, unfavorably, to Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950), which was the first movie to use this technique to tell the story of a rape/murder in order to question the possibility of “truth.”  Rashomon was also the film that introduced Kurosawa to the west.  Unlike the “Rashomon Effect,” which tries to piece together the different perspectives and viewpoints in order to reveal a justly “truthful” account of what happened, Vantage Point instead opts to cut and paste plot and dialogue in between special effects, kidnapping, assassination and terrorism scenes.  While Vantage Point does reveal the assassination attempt from various points of view, in Rashomon those views are shown as flashbacks.  However, in Vantage Point each point of view is not a flashback, instead it merely provides a certain view of the story, while the story (supposedly) moves forward.

In Vantage Point, U.S. President Henry Ashton (William Hurt) attends a political gala in Salamanca, Spain peddling an international anti-terrorism treaty—I am sure one that will infringe on our civil liberties even more.  The assassination attempt on the President occurs over a time span of 23 minutes.  Whenever the 23 minutes have run their course with the relevant character, the events start from the next vantage point.  Each segment reveals additional details that complete the superficial story behind the assassination.  There are eight segments; out of mercy I will only describe three.

Viewpoint number one: GNN producer Rex Brooks (Sigourney Weaver) is in charge of the media personnel there to cover the event from a mobile television studio.  The Mayor (Jose Carlos Rodriguez) delivers a short introduction for the President, but the President is shot twice as he approaches the podium.  An explosion outside the plaza soon follows.  Moments later, the podium itself is destroyed by a larger secondary explosion, killing and injuring numerous people.  As the smoke clears, GNN reporter Angie Jones (Zoe Saldana) is seen lying dead in the rubble.Vantage Point [2008] The TV Studio. 

The second perspective follows Secret Service agents Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid) and Kent Taylor (Matthew Fox).  While on post, Barnes notices a curtain fluttering in the window of a nearby building that was allegedly vacated.  He also observes American tourist Howard Lewis (Forest Whitaker) filming the audience.  After the President is shot, Barnes tackles a man rushing to the podium named Enrique (Eduardo Noriega).  Taylor pursues a lead to a potential assassin.  Following the second explosion, Barnes barges into the GNN mobile studio and asks to view their footage.  He calls Taylor, who reports the direction of the suspected assassin’s escape route.  Barnes then views an image on one of the camera’s live feeds that startles him and prompts him to run out without saying a word.

By the sixth vantage point, we have been introduced to terrorist Suarez, who shoots Ashton’s body double using a remote-controlled automatic rifle placed in an adjacent window next to the one with the fluttering curtain that had drawn Barnes’ attention earlier.  The rifle is retrieved by Taylor, whom Barnes sees leaving the scene wearing a Spanish policeman’s uniform on one of the GNN live feeds, even though he tells Barnes that he’s in pursuit of the assassin over the phone.  Barnes realizes Taylor is actually part of the terror plot.  The man Enrique saw embracing Veronica (who we meet in one of the earlier vantage points) is revealed to be sharpshooter Javier (Edgar Ramirez), whose brother is being held hostage to ensure Javier’s cooperation with the terrorists.  Javier kills the guards and aides within the hotel, and kidnaps the President.  Ashton is later placed in an ambulance with Suarez and Veronica disguised as medics.  At the overpass, Enrique, who did not die in the blast at the podium as intended, confronts Javier and Taylor.  Enraged, Javier shoots Enrique, mistakenly believing he had knowledge of his kidnapped brother’s whereabouts.  Javier is then shot and killed by Taylor when he demands to be brought to his brother, who had been killed earlier by Suarez.  Enrique dies of his wounds as Barnes reaches the scene on foot firing several rounds at Taylor, who attempts to flee.  After crashing his car, a critically injured Taylor is dragged out by Barnes.  He orders Taylor to reveal where the President has been taken, but Taylor dies.  Barnes runs to an ambulance where he sees Veronica lying dead.  He shoots Suarez dead and rescues the President—tying everything up nice and neat in less than 2 hours.

In the end this film all winds up—or trickles down—to yet another chase through crowded streets in commandeered cars, with an ending meant to be ironic but that simply provides a crowning howler to all the nonsense.  Unlike Akira Kurosawa’s classic film Rashomon, which is structured around multiple retellings of the same event, in Vantage Point nothing is gained from all the stopping and restarting.  Aside from the meager changing-perspectives device, the film has nothing going on and there doesn’t seem to be any reason for adopting this strategy which gets really old after about the fourth time. Vantage Point, like several other movies we have reviewed here at JPFmovies, is yet another example of Hollywood making an action-adventure movie that is short on plot intricacies but long on gimmicks and explosives. No amount of ripening time would make this artificial and ultimately harebrained movie anything more than crude, nerve-grinding and finally as un-salvageable as the car accidents it keeps inflicting on its characters.

Clearly, this is not a movie to take its audience’s intelligence for granted.

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2012 in Movie Reviews

 

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Well since we are still waiting for our Hero review here is one I saw on the fly: The Interpreter (2005).

“The Interpreter” was the final film to be directed by the legendary Sydney Pollack (3 days of the Condor, Out of Africa, Jeremiah Johnson…in total about 40 films).  The film stars Nicole Kidman and more importantly Sean Penn—who is one of my favorite actors.

 

Silvia Broome (Nicole Kidman) is an interpreter working at the United Nations in New York. She was raised in the fictional African country of the Republic of Matobo.

 

The United Nations is considering indicting the blood thirsty Edmond Zuwanie (Earl Cameron), President of Matobo, to stand trial at the Hague for crimes against humanity.  Initially considered a liberator, over the past 20 years he has become corrupt and tyrannical and is now responsible for ethnic cleansing in his country.  Zuwanie needs to make a speech directly to the United Nations in an attempt to save his ass and avoid the indictment.

 

After a hard day’s work, Silvia returns at night to get some personal belongings when she overhears discussion of an assassination plot, accidently turns on the light in the sound booth thereby making the would be assassins aware of her presence, and runs like hell.  The next day she is translating a meeting between the U.S. and Matobo and it clicks with the words she overheard the night before, so she reports the incident to UN security; the target of the plot appears to be Zuwanie himself.  UN security calls in the United States Secret Service. Enter Tobin Keller (Sean Penn) and Dot Woods (Catherine Keener) to investigate Silvia (much to her surprise), as well as protect Zuwanie when he shows up for his speech.  Keller learns that Silvia has, in the past, been involved in a Matoban guerrilla group and that her parents and sister were killed by land mines laid by Zuwanie.  On top of that she was even in bed (literally) with one of Zuwanie’s political opponents.  Although Keller is very suspicious of Silvia’s story, the two grow close and Keller ends up protecting her from attacks.  Silvia later finds that her brother Simon and her lover Xola were killed (as shown in the opening clip).

 

The purported assassin is discovered while Zuwanie is in the middle of his address to the General Assembly, and security personnel rush Zuwanie to a safe room for his protection. Silvia, anticipating this, has been hiding in the safe room, and confronts Zuwanie and intends to kill him herself.  Keller determines that the assassination plot is a sham, intended to fail; Zuwanie arranged it to enhance his own credibility, and thus avoid the indictment, while also eliminating his political opponents. Keller rushes to the safe room and arrives just in time to prevent Silvia from murdering Zuwanie. Zuwanie is indicted, and Silvia is expelled from the USA, returning home to Matobo soon afterwards.

 

While there is great directing, great acting and a tense plot, the film doesn’t quite reach its potential, making “The Interpreter” what it is, an exciting, smart thriller that never quite attains the edge to take it to the next level.  Why?  A perfect ending.  The first three quarters of the film are terrific, not at all action-packed which makes it even more exciting.  With the direction of Sydney Pollack and the acting of Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn, “The Interpreter” moves along at breakneck speed due to the tight construction of the plot and the equally compelling secrets of its main players. Some, however, will find it slow and boring, but that is their problem.  That being said, “The Interpreter” falls short of wowing its audience and while I enjoyed it and would recommend it, I can’t see it having much sustainability in the years to come i.e. becoming a cult classic.

 

The film did pretty well at the box office grossing about $160,000,000 with a budget of about $80,000,000.

 

Now, what makes the “The Interpreter” a little special is that it is the first movie ever filmed inside the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council chambers.  The producers initially approached the U.N. about filming there, but their request was turned down. The production would have relocated to Toronto with a constructed set; however, this would have substantially increased costs, so Sydney Pollack approached then-Secretary General Kofi Annan directly, and personally negotiated permission to film inside the United Nations. Annan commented on “The Interpreter” that “the intention was really to do something dignified, something that is honest and reflects the work that this Organization does. And it is with that spirit that the producers and the directors approached their work, and I hope you will all agree they have done that.”

 

Because the UN Security Council can call an emergency meeting at any time with three hours’ notice, the film crew had to take into account that they could be asked to leave almost immediately.  Not surprisingly, Ambassadors at the United Nations had hoped to appear in the film, but actors were asked to play the roles of diplomats. Spain’s UN Ambassador Inocencio Arias jokingly complained that his “opportunity to have a nomination for the Oscar next year went away because of some stupid regulation.”

 
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Posted by on August 16, 2011 in Movie Reviews

 

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