Sometimes critics, especially around Oscar time, can focus so much on filmmaking as art, they lose sight of the service they're actually rendering readers. They forget that a movie doesn't have to plumb the depths of the human soul or explore the geopolitical realities of our modern world to be worth recommending. It doesn't even have to be great. It just has to be entertaining.
This seems to be the case with Vantage Point, a thriller that unravels an assassination attempt on the president through the perspectives of six different witnesses. The audiences that have boosted it to the top of the box office seem to get it. Film reviewers, most of whom roundly thumped the movie for not doing enough to put the War on Terror in context, didn't. This critic sides with the audience.
Though terrorism is the driving force of the plot, Vantage Point (rated PG-13 for violent action sequences and language) doesn't offer any psychological or political explanations for the terrorists' behavior. Except for one moment when a dying character uses his last breath to intone, "This war will never end," we are never given any cause to think about the nature of the antagonists on screen-that they are not fictional and that the stakes for defeating them resonate far beyond the walls of the darkened theater. Instead, the sheer adrenaline of the action and the intricacies of the mystery keep us focused on the story director Pete Travis has to tell. And that story is an engaging one.
Our first perspective arrives via the woefully under-utilized Sigourney Weaver as a television producer sent to cover the president's historical anti-terrorism summit in Salamanca, Spain. Her footage acts as the catalyst that sets the other witnesses-a Secret Service agent (Dennis Quaid), a vacationing father (Forest Whitaker), a Spanish police officer (Edgar Ramirez), a group of terrorists, and the president himself (William Hurt)-into motion. As the same sequence of events plays over through each of their eyes, another piece of the puzzle falls into place. The machinery of the process-all the gears and pulleys working together to push forward the whole-is fascinating to watch despite the film's problems on other fronts.
The most intrusive of these problems is the acting. The soft, girlish voice and flirtatious demeanor of Zoe Saldana (Pirates of the Caribbean, Guess Who), who plays the reporter working with Weaver, suggests she has never seen a real newswoman at work. She apparently isn't aware that the broadcasting business is characterized by a brisk, sexless kind of attractiveness. Dennis Quaid, strong through the first two-thirds of the film, finishes out with a woodenness worthy of Keanu Reeves. And though William Hurt isn't bad (can he ever be bad?), he doesn't bother bringing the A-game that added life to A History of Violence to this production.
Despite the sub-par performances and a few nitpicking plot holes (like why a terrorist who is perfectly comfortable blowing up dozens of children in one fell swoop would risk his mission for the life of an anonymous girl), Vantage Point succeeds at moviemaking's first and most important charge-it keeps us entertained through its full 90-minute run. Replaying the same events so often could easily have induced boredom. But Travis ratchets up the energy with strategically placed details and increasing conflict. One 15-minute car chase is so expertly choreographed, so knuckle-bitingly tense, it alone is worth the price of admission.