Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Subtlety And Stillness Are Lost Art Forms...

A couple of days ago, I talked about how CGI technology is being incorporated more and more and changing (or ruining, in my opinion) the way modern day films look and feel, but I didn't have the energy (or space in the post) to expand my horizons and talk about how the of CGI is felt: how digital equipment make it easier for a director to stylize his film through things like split screens (though thankfully after the early nineties, those seem to be used pretty sparingly), snap zooms, and superimposition. I didn't even delve into how, more often than not, substance gets pushed aside for style, and the story takes a backseat, offering nothing more than a shell that never gets fully fleshed out. Pete Travis' Vantage Point is the epitome of these pitfalls.

The first five minutes of Vantage Point start off strong and with a bang (no pun intended), as Sigourney Weaver and a crew of news producers sit inside a control room, ready to go live with reporters on the scene of a high-profile presidential appearance in Spain. As Weaver gets into a petty squabble with one reporter (Zoe Saldana) over the tone she chose to take in a live shot, a gunshot fires, hitting the president, and the crew scrambles to cover it. The pacing picks up significantly, as it begins to match the panic-mode of the people in the square, and then comes the one-two punch of an explosion at the base of the hotel in the center of the events. Travis chooses to introduce these events-- the ones that supposedly set up the course for the whole film-- to his audience through the limited angles this crew's cameras are able to capture, and in doing so, he doesn't allow us access to all of the information just yet. The give a little, hold a lot back approach of Vantage Point shows great potential, but unfortunately it gets old quickly and just ends up frustrating the viewers.

It's painfully obvious what is really going on from the first few minutes of
Vantage Point-- in part because the majority of the plot is covered neatly in the promotional trailers but also due to the fact that the script is just not imaginative, and the plot is quite thin overall-- meaning, the stereotypical bad guys are the bad guys; there are no twists here. Barry Levy, a former teacher who sold Vantage Point as his first screenplay, sets up a few points (such as the fact that the president used a double for his appearance and therefore didn't actually get shot) that-- if the film was allowed to play out past the course of the same two violent events over and over and over-- would actually offer interesting and unique commentary. It would have been great to see the ramifications after the realization that the public had been duped; it would have been something rooted in reality and just tongue-in-cheek enough to elicit smiles. Instead, Levy's sophomoric style keeps the audience five steps ahead of the movie at any given moment, eliminating any real reason to keep watching.

The film is full of filler, offering the same sequences from varying angles and POVs-- from Secret Service agents (Dennis Quaid and Matthew Fox) to a civilian with a video camera (Forest Whitaker) who just happens to be in the right place at the right time to capture the "truth" to an up-and-coming terrorist (Said Taghmaoui, who is really too good for that kind of typecasting). Between the repetition, the slo-mo, the rewind sequences in between POVs, and the ungodly amount of running, there is no real plot-- just a whole lot of fast motion. The script must have been only twenty pages long and therefore would have made a really clever, really innovative short... or even a web series.

Vantage Point
boasts a huge cast of name talent, none of whom Travis seemed to know what to do with. Only Quaid and Whitaker have backstories, as simple as they may be, because Travis instead chooses to focus on convoluted action, muddying the importance of his wide net of supporting players and making the majority of them much more expendable than they perhaps should be. There is really nothing at stake for any of them other than "stay alive," and the few attempts at character connection or dimension-- most of which are given to Whitaker-- are too on the nose, as if Levy doesn't trust his audiences enough to read facial expressions, and Travis doesn't trust his actors to give the right ones. Levy tells when he should show; when Whitaker is alone, he mutters to himself ridiculously, unrealistically, and expositionally. There are actual, audible "Oh my Gods" spilling from these wide-eyed characters' mouths, and suddenly six-foot-tall, hulking men are reduced to melodramatic seventh grade girls. It's fitting, really, that in a film about deception, corruption, and violence, the filmmakers themselves proved to be similarly paranoid control freaks, unable to allow their actors just to do their own thing.

Far too much is by "chance" in this film, again namely with Forest Whittaker, who is the only civilian featured, and who happens to stumble onto just about everything. Dennis Quaid, too, though, just happens to have luck and timing on his side, finding pieces of the puzzle literally one after the other just dropped at his side, which is really just typical of the arc a once-fallen hero desperate to redeem himself takes in films like Vantage Point. Everything just comes too "easily." Travis is far too distracted by manufacturing suspense to focus on the huge holes and just expects his audience to be willing to suspend their disbelief enough to join him on this "convenient" journey.

Vantage Point
's concept is clever, and its effort is certainly admirable, but it was just too big for these green filmmakers, and unfortunately they got caught up in the flashy style and eliminated all substance. The result, which is just laughable when it isn't intended to be a comedy, would have been much more successful if it was half its length-- and at only ninety minutes, that's certainly saying something.


James Rabbitte said...

I understand what you're trying to do here, but saying that "Vantage Point" is the epitome of cinema's death is like saying Spam is the epitome of cuisine's demise. This is just a bad movie, and it's a classically bad one; it manages to be terrible in the way every bad movie of the 1930s was awful.

On that note, have you seen "Wall-E" yet? It was spectacular, and totally different than anything else I've seen recently.

danielletbd said...

Actually, I said "Wanted" was the epitome of cinema's death a few days ago and was just shocked to find the second movie I saw in as many days was so similar :)

But no, I haven't seen "Wall-E" yet but heard amazing things!