Vantage Point: Confusing at first, but the pieces click in the end

Thursday, February 28, 2008

In the action-packed thriller "Vantage Point," eight people with eight points of view try to unlock the one truth behind an assassination attempt on the president of the United States. Every time the clock turns back to 11:59 a.m. and the bell tolls, the audience around me gave a little gasp of anticipation. This movie kept me riveted in my seat with incredible camera work.

Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid) and Kent Taylor (Matthew Fox) are two Secret Service agents assigned to protect President Ashton (William Hurt) at a landmark summit on the global war on terror. Barnes is nervous, even more so when he spies a fluttering curtain from an annex window. Protesters line the streets of Salamanca, Spain, where the president is set to speak. Shortly into his speech, the unthinkable happens: Shots ring out, pandemonium breaks out and the search for the shooter begins. That swift and tragic act sets a taut narrative in motion. A series of bombs explode in the square and the masses rupture in panic, control turning to chaos.

After the shooting, Barnes takes down Enrique (Eduardo Noriega), suspicious of the man who dashed too quickly for the podium, but Enrique gets away after the ensuing explosion. Enrique's vantage point starts when he, as a Spanish cop, is watching the mayor but is distracted by his potentially cheating girlfriend Veronica (Ayelet Zurer). He later spots Veronica dressed as an EMT in the ambulance that took away the president.

Howard Lewis (Forrest Whitaker), an American tourist filming everything, interacts with a little girl, Anna (Alicia Jaziz Zapien), who dumps her ice cream on him and whom he then proceeds to save from multiple disasters.

Sigourney Weaver is amusing as the CNN news director exasperated by the performance of her cameramen (one of whom is obviously not what he appears), and the unscripted commentary of reporter Angie Jones (Zoe Saldana) makes us feel the shock of witnessing an earth-shattering event.

As the ticking clock repeatedly turns itself back to noon -- shades of "Groundhog Day" -- the replays bring the plot's shadowy playbook into sharp focus. Pieces of the puzzle click into place, matching good vs. evil with full-rush adrenaline until the last frame. Like reading a really good British mystery, each page reveals another clue.

Juicy rogue agents, romantic betrayals and covert operations are present and accounted for yet roughly kept in linear check. Body count is high and the message on terrorism dire: Will it never end?

If you've seen any element of the intense marketing campaign for the film, you know the screenplay refrains from smug political commentary and instead focuses on action. The mystery genre of "Vantage Point" enhances the experience.

So, when the president is shot, who has the best "Vantage Point"? Watch the movie and you will find out.

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