The mistake people make about modernism is thinking it’s old-fashioned. Thus a movie like Vantage Point comes along, built around the premise that it will be clever to show the same events through several characters’ eyes, and people call it “postmodern” because it’s, well, so very different. We are accustomed to being omniscient observers, or to staying at the protagonist’s side.
Vantage Point instead does a remarkable job of carrying us through the same short sequence of events five times, without growing tiresome. In part this is because the events — an assassination attempt on the U.S. president, combined with a terrorist attack — first catch our attention, and then become a mystery we want to solve. What, exactly, just happened? Who is responsible? As the scene repeatedly unfolds through different viewpoints, the viewer is transformed from onlooker to sleuth.
Anyone who thinks playing about with point of view qualifies a work of art as postmodern, however, ought to read Faulkner, or consider Hitchcock’s films. Vantage Point certainly has a clever idea here, but it’s not all that original.
The real question is: Does it work? The answer: Yes, until the last twenty minutes. The problem its writers work themselves into is that eventually they have to reveal their hand — they have to show us who the bad guys really are (the answer is predictable), and they have to bring the film to resolution. And this is where their cleverness seems to abandon them, leaving us with a weak ending that attempts to manipulate us with the cheapest of child-in-peril images. Viewers familiar with the far superior Crash will find how poorly Vantage Point performs in comparison.
A better tack might have been to suck us into the omniscient point-of-view in those final scenes, only to interpose some final individual viewpoint that reveals something important to the film’s resolution. Instead the film ends with a tidy whimper.
Vantage Point features several well-knowns: Dennis Quaid, Forest Whitaker, Sigourney Weaver, William Hurt, and the currently popular Matthew Fox, of television’s Lost. Only Whitaker shines, however, and his performance is proof that the best actors can overcome mediocre scripting and direction. Even though the film degenerates into an unexceptional vehicle chase, you will find yourself anxious for Whitaker’s character, an estranged father trying to do the right thing in perilous circumstances.
Were you to hire a babysitter in order to take in dinner and catch Vantage Point at your local theater, this film would be a disappointment, unless you are one of those people who enjoys Hollywood’s recent displacement of plot with dizzying camera zooms. For a $1 rental from your local McDonald’s Redbox, however, the film is probably worth a view, especially if you have a well-salted bowl of popcorn and the kids don’t get up half a dozen times while you’re trying to watch it. So on a McDonald’s six-piece scale, I give Vantage Point three and a half nuggets. But the dipping sauce runs out before you get to the end.