Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Movie Review: Vantage Point

Perhaps more so than other hobbyists and enthusiasts, the cinephile must brace himself for disillusionment, which comes to him more frequently than parallel disappointments do to fans and dabblers in other fields. It is not that a football fan does not frequently suffer, but he does not see his expectations so recurrently shattered. A football fan, or fan of any sport, if he is moderately knowledgeable, does not often see his predictions proved grossly inaccurate. If he believes his team a championship contender, and they instead finish 10-2, he has suffered only two true disappointments in twelve games, a pace which any lover of movies envies, for the lover of movies is plagued by the preview.

Even an experienced and circumspect moviegoer cannot completely inoculate himself from heartbreak and letdown, for the artful editor, in selecting certain shots and moments that run no more than a couple minutes out of a movie that may last hours, has fashioned a deceptive trailer. In all but the most lopsided of football games, a losing team is yet able to cobble together intermittent moments of competence and even artistry. The losing team nearly always scores, and only rarely does the winning team never punt the ball, or at least fumble or suffer a sack. The difference is that the football fan of the losing team has not been shown these bright moments beforehand to the exclusion of everything else, whereas the wretched cinephile, no matter his cynicism, must yield at least a little to the enticements of a trailer. These repeated disappointments are exacerbated by the fact that when a movie disappoints, the entire theater suffers, whereas when a football team underachieves the other contingent of fans is happy. There is a guarantee of balance in football, but in cinema, when a movie is a disaster, only the director’s ex-wife rejoices.

Which brings us to Vantage Point. Advertisements for this particular flick have been around for a very long time by the standards of the industry. We have seen a solid cast assembled and the premise is alluring. The shots we have glimpsed were competently taken. No big name director was at the helm but the project, having passed through the filter of a trailer, had come out looking as if it had originated from a good movie. It is your humble blogger’s duty, as critic, to slice away the mendacity of advertising and expose what could not pass through the filter.

Set in the current political climate but linked to no specific year or administration, the story takes place in Salamanca, Spain, on the occasion of a visit by the president of the United States. As Secret Servicemen take the scene and news crews record it, the president arrives at the Plaza Mayor to give a speech, but an assassination attempt followed by bomb explosions derail the proceedings. From the vantage point of several different characters, we view and review the event nearly to the limits of human endurance.

If a single flaw in the movie were to be cited which no amount of excellence in other aspects of filmmaking could overcome, it would be the very structure of the story. No fewer than seven times that I can recall, a storyline progressed to the threshold of the climax only to freeze, rewind, and finally start again at the beginning from a different vantage point. This very soon grows tedious and quickly passes from tediousness to a point where the viewer simply stares in tumescent disbelief that the filmmakers are going to make us sit through the same scene yet again.

Sadly, the structure of the film is not its only impediment to pleasure. It suffers from such an earnest proclivity for the dramatic that it sweeps aside realism in its pursuit, crossing characters with improbable coincidence, or giving them absurd behavior in order to place them in more precarious circumstances. Sometimes realism is eschewed for no better excuse than what I take to be rank laziness, and sometimes for no discernible reason at all. The procedures and protocols of the Secret Service, for instance, do not strike one as thoroughly fleshed out and genuine. In the Line of Fire, whether or not it was well researched, at least convinced one ignorant of such matters that it had been. Vantage Point does no such convincing. The crowd in the Plaza Mayor is full of faces that seem suspiciously New World, lacking the classic Castilian features, and the bits of Spanish that are tossed about often have a decidedly Latin American accent, excepting, of course, actor Eduardo Noriega. One character is magically teleported to a distant part of the city so that a scene of poignant reuniting may take place. The worst of it is to be witnessed in the president’s hotel suite, where the commander in chief and his advisers carry on in such a juvenile manner that one marvels at the puerility of the mind that conceived it.

When the seemingly interminable rewinds and replays are finally finished, ninety percent of the climactic scene is taken up by a car chase. It is the same car chase that the good reader saw last week, which was the same car chase he saw the week before and the week before that. But for the quicker cuts and more mobile camera it was the same car chase he saw in 1985. I have reached a point where, no matter its incongruity with the established character of the villain, rather than lead the hero on another dull, high velocity/multiple impact car chase, if no fresh and interesting perspective on vehicular pursuit can be found, I would prefer that he simply hand over the keys, turn himself in and end the movie a few minutes sooner. If the hero is the one being pursued, then he should allow himself to be shot and his offspring can catch the villain in the sequel.

One last flaw I will expound and then leave off, with the understanding that the enumeration of certain defects in the movie shall not be construed as denying or disparaging other defects contained in it. This last shortcoming is the entire terrorist enterprise, which is so grand in scale, so intricate in execution and so dependent upon a variety of players from a myriad of backgrounds that a credible explanation for how such an endeavor could be undertaken is quite simply an obligation on the part of the storytellers. There is nothing wrong with a fantastic conspiracy, even if it breaks through the bounds of what could reasonably occur in real life, so long as the filmmakers demonstrate how it might plausibly be put together. Such a demonstration would not only alleviate incredulity but could prove quite interesting in and of itself. Failing that, leave it in mystery. Don’t show us who carried it out, or at least not all of them. Don’t fill in all the details; leave the audience with the chill of unfulfilled suspicion. Make the investigation only a partial victory or, better yet, no victory at all. I merely offer some suggestions for when the movie is remade in 2032.

Final Grade: D+


Anonymous said...

Use simpler words. Stop trying to showboat with your grammar and vocabulary. Your review would then have a lot more credibility. As it is, it verges on the unreadable.

Spirit of 73 said...


I appreciate you stopping by. I must say, though, that if a modern product of government schooling finds Joseph Conrad unreadable, I do not fault Joseph Conrad.

alison said...

i totally agree with anonymous. when you use complex vocabulary and correct grammar, you completely undermine your credibility. i ain't trustin no reviewer who talks english more good than me.

Dead Pan said...

honestly, i grew tedious with your use of vocabulary. I understood it completely but it grew very tiresome because it just didn't flow. You want to sit here and ejaculate your vocabulary, thats fine, but please don't blame others for finding in overly pretentious and highly annoying.

Spirit of 73 said...

Dead Pan,

I think I shall opt for a straight answer and eschew the sarcasm I might normally use in this instance.

I do not find it surprising that, amongst the populace of a nation that does not read, there are many who do not appreciate the written word. What I do find surprising is the contempt in which wordsmiths of ability are held. After all, this is a nation that, in similar numbers, does not play soccer either, and yet a soccer player of ability is at least appreciated for how he plays, even if what he plays is considered uninteresting.

I crafted the review with great care, and I am confident in proclaiming that it flows rather well when read with competence. A piece by Rachmaninoff will falter under the hands of a novice pianist; so does a well written essay under the eyes of someone unschooled in reading. I am of the opinion that my vocabulary livens the piece rather than interrupts its flow. I further believe that your bumpy ride over my movie review was due more to your weaker vocabulary, and as evidence I offer to you the first sentence of your own reply, in which you misuse the word tedious.

The last part of your reply, in which you offer instructions as to how I am to conduct myself on my own blog, I shall leave unanswered. You are welcome here anytime, but my writing is unlikely to change and I fear that if your reading deficiency remains unredressed, you will find it an uncomfortable place to visit.

Dead Pan said...

I am not saying you aren't well versed. I did not find it to be a bad review, nor did I find it a bad thing that you used correct grammar as another reader commented. I simply thought that your vocabulary hindered your writing, not because there is anything wrong with having such an expansive vocabulary, but simply because it took away from your review. The reader becomes focused on too many of the words you used because they are unfamiliar in the way we talk about movies.

I am aware that I have grammatical problems in my writing, I have made it a goal to improve that aspect of it. You don't have to point out my faults in a comment I took little time to think about exactly what I was writing, I know there was some faults then and Im sure there are even more as I write this now.

All I am saying is that if this were a review written for a general audience, as I am supposing were your intentions, then there would be complaints. Not because your so much smarter than the average person, as you seem to like to think, as I have already admitted you are head and shoulders above me when it comes to grammar and the like. It just seemed like you were using such words for the sake of using such words.

I will continue to read other reviews you post though, because I did happen to enjoy your review, I wasn't bashing the review but more the way you chose to present it.

Sorry for the long comment, just had alot to say I guess.

2 more things and I'm finished.

I was only commenting the first time and "offering instructions" on how to run your blog simply because I figured you wrote this movie review to be read by others. I wasn't aware you wrote it for only yourself to enjoy. I was just trying to speak for what seems to be the majority of people who have read it, atleast of those who commented.

Lastly, as I do not wish to cause bad blood here I have a favor to ask.

If you don't wish to do so that is fine, but if you agree thats great as well.

I am trying to get my chops up on my film reviews and I realize I have a big problem with grammar. If I were to send you my reviews before posting them, would you be able to critique them and tell me how I can polish them up before sending them out into the ether?

Like I said, either way is cool man, I hope you aren't pissed for the disagreement.

Spirit of 73 said...

Dead Pan,

I'm not pissed at all. I would be happy to help you out.

And remember, vocabulary that seems strange can be disconcerting, but when you become familiar with it, it will no longer interrupt your flow, and you will see how enriching it can be, if used properly.

Anonymous said...

I have enjoyed reading your blog, especially the posts about freedom.

Nonetheless I do believe there is something to the point that Dead Pan makes.

You could widen your readship, at all literacy levels, by applying The Elements of Style (Strunk and White).

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