This film has seven vantage points in total. Each one comes from a specific person in a plaza in Salamanca, Spain. Each represents about a half hour out that person's life, and each vantage point reveals a little bit more about this action thriller than the previous one before it.
The seven vantage points include those of an American tourist, an off-duty Spanish cop, a TV producer, the President of the United States, two secret service agents, and even that of a specially trained Arab military officer.
Yes, this group of seven all give us their points of view, as they bear witness to a terrorist attack that includes an assassination attempt and a suicide bombing. Each point of view is limited, not privy to all the elements that lead us to discover who the ultimate perpetrators are and why they're perpetrating, but when laid out, they give us some idea.
Those points of view basically repeat the same information and incident seven times. Call it Patriot Games meets Groundhog Day, but with a Rashomon kind of twist.
We start at noon with Rex, the TV producer, played by Oscar-nominee, Sigourney Weaver who's in charge of the live broadcast of the Presidential anti-terrorism summit in Spain. She's snappy and bossy, but dedicated. Rex is stationed in a mobile truck, away from the plaza, where she can direct the dozen or so live cameras planted around the scene, including a reporter not too far from where the President's podium is.
Rex directs the several cameras to give her various shots and angles. She's cutting back and forth, covering the crowds and the motorcade, and eventually the President, as he steps up to give his speech. Right in front of her eyes and on live television, Rex watches the U.S. president gunned down. This is around 12:30 p.m.
Suddenly, we rewind back to noon, and we watch the whole thing all over again. Only this time, we're in the shoes of Secret Service Agent Thomas Barnes, played by Dennis Quaid (The Right Stuff and Far From Heaven), and we're no longer in the mobile TV truck, but we're in the President's motorcade. After taking a bullet for the President, a year ago, Barnes is again assigned to be the bodyguard for this summit.
We follow Barnes for that time, leading up to the same shooting of the President. Only now, we get to see what he saw, which is a little bit more than what Rex saw. This helps us in the audience to learn who committed this crime.
VANTAGE POINT doesn't stay with Barnes. After a while, we rewind back to noon again, and quantum leap into another person's body and into their point of view, as they reveal to us the same attack, but with a little more knowledge than the last person revealed. This happens seven times.
While this may seem annoying or frustrating to some people, I believe this technique does build genuine intrigue and curiosity to make the audience want to see the terrorist attack, repeated but from different frames of reference. It involves the viewer to open his or her eyes and try to see through somebody else's in order to solve this mystery.
Director Pete Travis, who up until now has only directed television, does throw in the now action-film-requisite car chase scene through a crowded street. It is always baffling how two cars, even mini-cars, can travel at break-neck speeds through a city's congested downtown with bumper-to-bumper traffic, and each driver, out of nowhere, can magically be more trained than the best NASCAR professional, and not cause more damage and death than they do.
After seeing the car chases in The Italian Job (2003) and Live Free or Die Hard, or even more recently in National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007), this auto pursuit is only halfway interesting. The camera work, however, is so frenetic that it almost feels like, after bombarding us with the same scene over and over, the director is trying to shake off the staleness.
The director succeeds, but it seems as if he feels that's enough to conclude the movie. Yes, the good guys live and the bad guys die, but there are some glaring loose ends that Travis leaves open, which kill this film.
It can be guessed why the Muslim terrorists are doing what they're doing. Except, the terrorists receive help from non-Muslims, one in particular, whose vantage point is the last we see. Up until then, the writer Barry Levy and the director do a decent job, in interludes, to give us motivations and back stories of each of the characters.
But, this last vantage point, which is a crucial one, is given no motivation, no back story, no explanation of why he's doing what he's doing. In that, a great actor is wasted, and an interesting movie is left with no context, or real message for the audience to hold onto.
Three Stars out of Five
Rated PG-13 for violence
Running Time: 1 hr. and 30 mins.