Years ago, Mek and I saw a trailer for Vantage Point and were intrigued by the initial premise. A conspiracy thriller about a presidential assassination from the POV of multiple people at the scene? I’m a huge sucker for Rashomon-esque stories, and this movie sounded like it could be a lot of fun . . right up until the point where the trailer revealed a Really Big Twist–and like, not some subtle turn of events that only obsessive pop culture nerds like me could figure out by overanalyzing the trailer frame by frame and spotting some dude wearing a significant costume in the background. No, I’m talking about a preview that outright told you a huge plot reveal. It was just . . . baffling. And after the film failed to garner almost any positive reviews, I kind forgot about the whole movie.
My sister, however, did not. So guess what we finally watched a few weeks ago?
The verdict? Well. It doesn’t start out so bad, anyway.
Folks, there will definitely be all kind of SPOILERS today. In fact, think of this post as less of a normal review and more of a how-to guide, like, The Seven Ways to Fix Vantage Point. Cause it needs some fixing.
. . . I kind of already gave one, didn’t I? Well, okay. President Ashton (William Hurt) is supposedly assassinated, an event we see from the POV of some reporters, a cop, a secret service agent, the bad guys, a tourist, and, well, the President himself. Each POV tells a little bit more of the story. Twists and revelations ensue.
1. For reals, you guys. Fire the marketing team.
This is the trailer for Vantage Point, and in the spirit of fairness, I will say that it doesn’t tell you all the Big Reveals. I’ll even go a step further and say that knowing the President’s fate ahead of time isn’t what ruins the movie . . . but it sure doesn’t help, either.
It turns out the US government uses stand-ins for the President whenever they’re worried about his safety. These stand-ins are called “doubles,” and it’s never really made clear to me whether these doubles are supposed to be naturally occurring doppelgängers who get recruited, dudes wearing Mission Impossible masks, or, you know, clones. Some clarification on that subject would be nice (especially if they’re clones cause, like, Jesus, that’s an SF twist that should get more than four seconds worth of attention). Mostly, though, I’m just frustrated that the twist was revealed at all–and if I’m frustrated, I can’t imagine what the writers of the actual movie thought. Actually, I can: I’m picturing a lot of creative cursing, a few stunned looks of disbelief, and people weeping to the uncaring sky, “Jesus, why, oh why, would you do that to MY STORY?!”
I know some people genuinely enjoy spoilers before they see a movie. There are (limited) times that I prefer to know some myself, but how much you know about a movie ahead of time influences how you watch the film in question, and I seriously doubt that knowing this particular twist in this particular movie made anyone’s film-viewing experience more enjoyable–maybe especially because this is one of the only plot twists that isn’t wholly predictable from the get-go.
2. Make your inside man’s identity a little less obvious.
Agent Jack (Matthew Fox) is actually named Kent Taylor, but I’m absolutely not going to call him that. Agent Jack is a Secret Service agent secretly working with the bad guys. The less traitorous Secret Service agents are Agent Dennis Quaid, Agent Richard T. Jones, and Agent Holt McCallany, and if you only recognize one of those names, no worries, because chances are the name you recognize is also the name of the only good agent that this movie cares about. Richard T. Jones’s primary role in this movie is to chase after some dude, and Holt McCallany’s role, sadly, is just to die. (I will always be sad when Holt McCallany dies in a movie, for I will forever be a little in love with him as Wade from The Losers.) I’m always in favor of strong supporting characters, but the reason these paper thin characters are particularly disappointing is because it’s not a massive leap to guess that one of the supposed good guys in a conspiracy thriller is secretly evil. And since Agent Richard T. Jones and Agent Holt McCallany are such obvious glorified extras, you really only have two possible suspects for an inside man . . . and Agent Dennis Quaid pretty clearly isn’t a great one.
Mind you, that’s not the only reason Agent Jack’s reveal is pretty patently obvious. I figured him for the bad guy pretty early on, like, I’m talking maybe twenty minutes into the movie. For one thing, when Agent Dennis Quaid tries to go along with Agent Jack to the suspected shooter’s location, Agent Jack quickly stops him so he can go alone, cause sure, that’s not shifty. Then Agent Dennis Quaid can’t get ahold of anyone at Control to report or receive info, but somehow Agent Jack can–and we only have Agent Jack’s word that he saw the shooter and/or is chasing him?
Come on, movie. Work harder.
3. Edit the car chases.
Cause seriously. They’re just too long. Don’t get me wrong: I like me a good car chase now and then, but at a certain point here, it really all just starts feeling like filler. If your chase scenes have stretched out to the point that they’ve become dull, you’ve entirely lost the point of a chase scene.
4. Bring back the news crew.
When I said that Vantage Point started out well, I meant it. We begin with our news crew: Angie (Zoe Saldana) is the reporter at the scene of the presidential address, while Rex Brooks (Sigourney Weaver) works behind the scenes from a studio on wheels. (Also with Rex: Leonardo Nam from Westworld.) Angie’s report is cut short and then cut short again, first by the not-President’s assassination and then by the explosion that kills her.
This is a compelling opening segment. It starts the mystery off with a very literal bang and sets up a few things nicely, like foreshadowing that one of the cameramen is a bad guy (totally called it), not to mention providing some basic exposition (it essentially boils down to “not everybody’s happy with America”). Angie’s death immediately puts a human face on the tragedy, which is fairly effective, although I’ll admit I was rooting for her to have secretly survived and maybe even be involved somehow. The fact that she doesn’t make it past the first ten minutes is a bit disappointing but not too shocking: Vantage Point came out a year before Saldana’s big break in Star Trek. So, I’m bummed, but I get it. This part works okay.
What works considerably less well is this: after opening the film, the news crew briefly comes back during Agent Dennis Quaid’s POV section so he might see A Clue . . . and then they’re pretty much entirely dropped from the story. It makes no sense to me. For one thing, it’s a criminal waste of Sigourney Weaver’s talent, like, why is she even in this movie, if they’re going to give her so little to do? But also, like, come on. These guys are the news. All kinds of pretty newsworthy things are happening around them. Surely we might see at least one of them running around, reporting on stuff and otherwise uncovering things. This is especially problematic when you consider Forest Whitaker’s story.
5. Seriously trim the hell out of Forest Whitaker’s story.
Howard Lewis (Whitaker) makes sense for a while. He’s a tourist filming the president’s speech. He also has a pointless backstory with a kid and an estranged wife that no one really gives a damn about. Anyway, Lewis captures the moment where the Not-President gets shot; he also unwittingly captures one of the bad guys planting a bomb. After it goes off, Lewis rescues a little girl he met before and gets her to safety when they can’t find her mother. That part all works fine.
Here’s where my credulity snaps straight in half: Lewis leaves the little girl with a cop because he sees the dude he thinks is a terrorist and decides to chase after him, filming the whole time.
No. Just no.
From the depths of my soul, I do not believe that this ordinary, mild-mannered motherfucker–who, so far as I can tell, isn’t in law enforcement, doesn’t work as a journalist, didn’t lose anybody in the attack, doesn’t have a death wish and/or a Youtube channel that he obsessively updates with his daredevil stunts–chases after a terrorist by himself so he can capture the whole thing on camera. I just do not believe it, not this guy. You know who would have sold it? That’s right, one of the news crew. Maybe Leonardo Nam chooses to step up and take Zoe Saldana’s place after she’s killed, with Producer Sigourney Weaver talking him through it the whole time. Or maybe Producer Sigourney Weaver is the one who decides to leave the relative safety of the mobile studio and fill her reporter’s shoes. Maybe Zoe Saldana proves to have survived after all, and goes after the story while dealing with life-threatening injuries. Any of that would have worked for me; instead, the news team vanishes like they were swallowed up by a black hole, leaving Normal Joe Tourist Guy in an action role I just cannot buy. It’s vexing.
6. For the love of all that is holy, keep the small child out of the road.
Okay. Here’s the thing: I totally get that people do not actually break down into good guys and bad guys, that people who do terrible things are still human, with compassion and morals and lines they will not cross. Even a dude comfortable blowing up a child from a distance might struggle with having to personally mow down a kid with an ambulance. I get that, I do.
But people. Resolving the climax of your movie, you know, when the bad guy is caught, the happy ending is achieved, and good finally defeats evil? Yeah, that probably shouldn’t depend solely on the happenstance of a small child running into a road.
Here’s how it goes: Forest Whitaker leaves Little Girl with the cop so he can run after a supposed terrorist like an idiot. Little Girl is naturally pretty upset about, well, everything, and eventually ends up running into the middle of a busy road looking for her mom. Big Bad Suarez (Saïd Taghmaoui) is fleeing with the real President Ashton in the back of his stolen ambulance, and would have escaped and ultimately succeeded in his dastardly plan if he didn’t swerve at the last minute, avoiding the child and flipping the rig.
Nope. That sucks. That’s a bullshit resolution for this film.
If you’re going to do something like that, my God, you have to back it up . . . and I’m not just talking situationally, like foreshadowing the kid being out on the road. I mean thematically. Humanizing your villains is one thing, sure, but your good guys cannot win because of some random jaywalking kid, not unless your whole movie is about the extent to which heroes and villains are willing to go to achieve their end goals. And, like, you can’t just bring that idea up once and be done with it; that shit needs to be seeded early and throughout the story, something this movie pretty much entirely fails to do.
7. Finally, structure: learn a proper balance.
If you watched the trailer, you know Vantage Point is particularly proud of its eight-people-POV gimmick; they must mention it like half a dozen different times. Where I struggle is that for about 2/3 of the film, we get specific individual POVs: Producer Sigourney Weaver, Agent Dennis Quaid, Tourist Forest Whitaker, etc. And then in the last 1/3, we basically just get the POV of The Bad Guys, not one from Suarez and one from Agent Jack and one from Femme Fatale Ayelet Zurer, but all of them lumped together, despite the fact that sometimes they’re miles apart from one another. It’s pretty sloppy structure, and it definitely doesn’t help out a story that desperately needs to sell its chief villain as evil, but not like EVIL evil.
Strong premise. Strong opener. Ultimately falls apart halfway through. And since I forgot to mention it before, I have to ask: Agent Jack is a double agent, but he’s not supposed to actually be Spanish, right? Please, please tell me he’s not supposed to be a native speaker. Because I’ve got to tell you, I’m not a native speaker (or really any speaker of any kind) and I’d still like to vote Matthew Fox’s Stilted Spanish as Least Valuable Player in this movie.
Shit, that’s hard. You know what? I’m giving it to Zoe Saldana. She has like four minutes to sell us on her character before she tragically bites it. That takes work.
. . . you know, I don’t know. Maybe we should let more kids run into the middle of a busy road? I mean, sure, that sounds bad, but if the little girl hadn’t done so, the President of the United States would be dead right now.
In this movie, children are ultimately more helpful than the Secret Service.