So complains reporter Angie Jones (Zoe Saldana) to her news producer Rex Brooks (Sigourney Weaver), when the latter insists “we’re here for the summit, not the sideshow”. With a large team of cameramen (for maximum visual coverage), they are in a crowded plaza in Salamanca, Spain, reporting on a live address to be given by US President Ashton (William Hurt) at an international anti-terrorism convention. Within minutes, the President will have been hit in the chest by two bullets, and the plaza will have been shaken by two bomb blasts, leaving Angie Jones, and many others, dead.
Angie, however, was right there are other stories here, and Vantage Point uses the device of an action rewind to show us the same sequence of events several times over from different perspectives, including that of grizzled Secret Service agent Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid) and his younger partner Kent Taylor (Matthew Fox), of camcorder-toting American tourist Howard Lewis (Forest Whitaker), of local plainclothes cop Enrique (Eduardo Noriega), of the President himself, and of one or two others until, in the end, a bigger picture emerges, where the summit has become indistinguishable from the sideshow, in a plot positively brimming with double-takes, double-agents, smoke and mirrors.
In the Line of Fire (1993) meets Rashomon (1950) – no doubt that is how Vantage Point was first pitched, and it is just the sort of high-concept hybrid than can easily get a film green-lit. Disappointingly, however, Vantage Point ends up being rather less than the sum of its parts. Multiple perspectives combined in Akira Kurosawa’s modernist classic to reveal something profound about human subjectivity and prejudice, whereas here they seem little more than a flashy gimmick. By leading the viewer up several garden paths before finally revealing the Big Truth, really Vantage Point is little different from any other thriller a genre where “webs of intrigue” and “things not being what they seem” are a matter of commonplace.
It is perfectly possible to juggle a confounding chaos of different characters’ restricted points of view within an otherwise chronologically linear narrative, as the Coens, for example, pulled off so brilliantly with Blood Simple (1984). Vantage Point instead splits its many points of view into five re-runs of the same incident, and the result inevitably undermines the film’s economy, even if the running time gallops in at a mere 90 minutes. Director Pete Travis (Omagh) does his utmost to create variety with different shooting styles, a series of cliffhangers (although even these become repetitive), and a bruising Bourne-again car chase through the city’s streets but nonetheless Vantage Point deploys two or three times too many a revisionist trick that has in any case already been seen many times before in multiple-perspective films as varied as One Night at McCool’s, Elephant, Basic and Hoodwinked! (not to mention countless courtroom dramas).
Whats more, no matter how many twists and turns it may offer, Vantage Point is still unable to resist the allure of clich, making it far more predictable than was apparently intended. See a washed-up old agent, and you just know he will prove himself by the end. See a cute little girl with a penchant for ice cream (and with a name), and it seems likely that she will emerge unscathed from all manner of deadly perils (where the more anonymous figures in the background are not so lucky). See a person of obvious Middle Eastern origin, and you can guess that he will be one of the terrorists. These hackneyed conventions are crying out to be subverted, but Vantage Point prefers to stick with the familiar, so that it ends up, bizarrely enough, affirming rather than challenging the viewer’s prejudices.
Vantage Point spends its first half suggesting that truth is always an elusive construct, formed from incomplete evidence, blinkered viewpoints, and blind assumption and yet its second half abandons this idea altogether, instead unveiling a truth that is, if anything, too clear, leaving no wiggle room for controversy or equivocation. And so, what might have been a sophisticated dramatisation of shifting realities instead coasts into preposterously by-numbers action set-pieces, and the results are unlikely to satisfy anyone very much, be they hardcore epistemologists or die-hard genre fans while an oversimplistic message about media distortion and manipulation that is shoehorned in at the very end merely demonstrates that Vantage Point is no Redacted.
By the time the unintentionally funny final section is over, you will most probably leave the cinema wishing that you had watched not just “other stories”, but another movie altogether.