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Vantage Point

Who Says Hollywood Doesn’t Make Right-Wing Propaganda?

The next time a right-wing pundit makes a crack about “liberal Hollywood", Vantage Point should be rolled out as Exhibit A to prove them wrong. With a cast of well-known actors -- none named Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, or Chuck Norris -- Vantage Point plays out like a right winger’s wet dreams about the so-called “war on terrorism", down to the kind of paranoid fears about government infiltration that Senator Joe McCarthy played on for political advancement in the 50s.

Dubious politics aside, as directed by Pete Travis (Omagh), Vantage Point is slickly produced Hollywood entertainment, delivering Bourne-like action scenes with head-turning plot twists that will make a certain segment of the moviegoing public stand up and cheer (and another segment cower in a corner).

Vantage Point unwinds like a modern-day take on Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, following the same series of events through the points of view of several characters, beginning with Angie Jones (Zoe Saldana), a reporter for Global News Network (GNN), and her producer, Rex Brooks (Sigourney Weaver). Jones and GNN are in Salamanca, Spain to cover an anti-terrorism summit that involves both Western and Arab countries.

The President of the United States, Ashton (William Hurt), arrives at the Plaza Mayor in a caravan of black cars, SUVs, and limousines. With Ashton are two Secret Service agents, Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid) and Kent Taylor (Matthew Fox). Barnes, a hero for saving the President from an assassin only a year earlier, is still uncertain about himself. Within moments of Ashton taking the podium, a hidden assassin shoots the president. As the attendees rush for the exits, a powerful bomb explodes, killing and injuring many.

Vantage Point then rewinds, retelling the same set of events from Barnes point of view. Each rewind extends the story further, adding a few details or facts, including events beyond the assassination attempt and bombing. Just as Barnes comes across new information that might change everything we know or thought we knew, his point of view ends in a rapid rewind. Next up is a camcorder-sporting American tourist, Howard Lewis (Forest Whitaker). As he scans the Plaza Mayor, Lewis catches Barnes’ reticence, a couple’s argument, and curtains flapping in a window. Lewis records the assassination attempt, as well as Barnes tackling a Spaniard, Enrique (Eduardo Noriega), who rushes the podium seconds after the president gets hit.

Vantage Point rewinds again and shifts in points of view take in Enrique and his lover, Veronica (Ayelet Zurer); the events leading to and after the assassination attempt of the President; the President's viewpoint; an assassin with Special Forces training, Javier (Edgar Ramirez); and finally, the mastermind behind the assassination attempt and the bombing, Suarez (Saïd Taghmaoui). It’s in this last segment, however, that Vantage Point drops the first person point of view for a limited third person point of view that follows the characters and their storylines as they overlap and merge in surprising and unsurprising ways.

It’s also in the last segment that Vantage Point becomes increasingly ludicrous, leaving logic and common sense behind for cheap plot twists, up and including a “child-in-peril” scenario that suggests writer Barry Levy fell short on ideas and just went with whatever cliché came to mind. While that cheapens the third act of what is probably one of the tensest, most suspenseful films that don’t have the word Bourne in the title, Vantage Point has far more serious problems, beginning and ending with Levy’s premise of a Spain apparently overrun with Muslim terrorists (all dark haired, dark-skinned, and dark-eyed, of course), and a Spanish government apparently incapable of providing even a modicum of security to an intergovernmental summit that, we’re told, is one of the most important of its kind.

Levy and director Pete Travis don’t help themselves by refusing to give the terrorists anything except the shadiest of motives. They’re terrorists and that should be enough for moviegoers to see them as hissable villains. At most, Levy gives one of Ashton’s advisors, Phil McCullough (Bruce McGill), a neo-con who immediately argues for a military response after the assassination attempt, a two-sentence explanation for the terrorists’ actions: retaliation for derailing another terrorism plot. That kind of context-free moviemaking is problematic, regardless of political ideologies, since it refuses to take real-world complexities into account or simply rejects them outright as hindrances to spectacle-first, story-second moviemaking. Whatever way you look at it, Vantage Point is a right-winger’s wet dream, but for everyone else it’s a nightmare, an intentional affirmation of the current administration’s foreign policy disguised as a Hollywood action/thriller.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars