Vantage Point

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I’ll tell you up front that I love movies that show multiple perspectives of the same event, and I love movies that mess around with timelines. When a film shows something, then jumps back in time to show it again from a different point of view, I am as delighted as a child. “Vantage Point” does that with a terrorist bombing, and every time the bomb goes off and the clock resets itself, I smile. If that is the wrong reaction to have to a terrorist bombing, then I don’t want to be right.

What you get from “Vantage Point” is a lot of vigorous actors — Dennis Quaid, William Hurt, Forest Whitaker, et al. — doing vigorous work in the service of a crafty, fast-moving, well-told story. Directed by Pete Travis and written by Barry L. Levy (the first feature credit for both), it feels like an episode of “24” (or, for that matter, like Jack Bauer himself): energetic, lean, and efficient, with no excess fat.

We begin in Salamanca, Spain, where a historic anti-terrorism summit is about to be capped off by a speech from U.S. President Ashton (William Hurt). First our perspective is from the news control van, where the director (Sigourney Weaver) and her crew fill us in on whatever backstory we need — including that one of the Secret Service agents guarding Ashton is Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid), who took a bullet for the president last year and has been a little skittish ever since.

So it must be deja vu for Barnes when Ashton’s speech is interrupted, rudely, by someone firing two shots into him. Panic fills the crowded plaza as Barnes and his fellow agent Taylor (Matthew Fox) scramble to get the president to an ambulance and to find the shooter. Moments later, a bomb goes off — and the movie pauses, rewinds, and says “23 minutes earlier….”

The story begins anew, this time from Barnes’ perspective specifically, and ending once again with the bomb. Then we go back again and follow a Spanish cop named Enrique (Eduardo Noriega), then an American tourist (Forest Whitaker), the president himself, a mysterious local (Saïd Taghmaoui), and so forth. Each retelling reveals new facts. Dialogue we heard in the background in one segment is given new context in the next. Little things make you go “hmm…” at first (why can’t Barnes reach his command center on the radio?), then make sense later.

As is nearly always the case with these things, the conspiracy as it’s eventually explained is outrageously elaborate, the type of scheme that requires the evildoers to have some pretty serious foreknowledge and to do an awful lot of lucky guessing. The dialogue is often pedestrian, too, with lines that are either old clichés (a betrayed man crying out, “You used me!”) or laughably expository (“Your brother spoke very highly of your special forces training”).

The effects of those deficiencies are offset, however, by the thrilling pace and by the strength of the cast. Hammier actors might have ruined it; these old pros take things seriously — a crucial element in getting the audience to suspend its disbelief, given how implausible the whole story would be in the real world. The movie’s all about how you can see something with your own eyes and still not know what really happened, and I’m happy to let it mess with my mind.

B+ (1 hr., 30 min.; PG-13, a little profanity including one F-bomb, lots of non-graphic violence.)

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