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In New Orleans, ATF agent Doug Carlin is called in to investigate a terrorist attack on a crowded ferry. Loaded with Navy personnel and their families, the ferry explodes in a massive fireball, killing most of the men, women and children onboard. When Carlin realizes one corpse washed ashore before the explosion, he identifies the woman named Claire as the terrorist's first victim and the key to tracking him down.
After reporting his findings to the FBI team heading up the investigation, Carlin is invited to join them in utilizing a brand new, top-secret technology that involves a collection of high-powered satellites and imaging equipment to view incredibly precise "video" of events as they happened four days (and six hours) in the past. They need him to help them know where to look and what to look for in tracking the terrorist's movements leading up to the attack. Carlin directs them to use the technology to observe Claire.
Two things happen as the team watches Claire go about her daily routine inside her house four days in the past: Carlin begins to fall for the now-dead woman, and he begins to suspect there's much more to the technology than he's been told. When Claire seems to be able to sense the team watching her (even though she exists only in the past), Carlin wonders if they can somehow use that unlikely connection to change the course of recent history.
Carlin is a committed to catching criminals and executing justice. He (and several others) risk their own personal safety to help those in danger. The FBI unit demonstrates a high degree of skill, mutual respect, and compassion for the victims of the terrorist attack.
The core question of Déjà Vu is whether events in the past are fixed and unalterable by "God or fate or whatever," or whether they could be changed if, indeed, someone found a way to change them. One PhD who eventually admits that he believes in God states that "God has already made up His mind" about anything that has happened in the past. Others challenge that idea. The story seems to side with them.
In conversation with Carlin, the terrorist expresses his belief that he's doing the Lord's work. "Satan reasons like a man, but God controls destiny," he asserts.
Carlin admits the need for divine intervention if he's going to be able to accomplish his mission. While being observed by the team, Claire is seen praying out loud and leading her fearful young niece in prayer, as well. Carlin joins her by closing his eyes when she prays.
Carlin and the team do not, however, always close their eyes when observing Claire walking around her house in her underwear, getting dressed or stepping into the shower. Although Carlin and the one female member of the team urge the "camera" operator to turn away, they (and the audience) still briefly glimpse Claire's bare chest and backside (darkened by shadows). She seems to "feel" them watching her and goes looking for an intruder while wearing a towel.
There's a stray joke about prison rape. And a team member advises Carlin to "jump on" whomever he's got at home.
The opening sequence is a classic Jerry Bruckheimer production. He and director Tony Scott spend several long minutes raising the stakes of the drama by observing Navy sailors apparently returned from active duty and reunited with friends and family as they board the ferry in New Orleans. We get slow-motion close-ups of the beaming faces of dads, moms, grandparents, and lots and lots of kids enjoying the moment while a jazz band plays on deck. Then they're all blown to smithereens in a catastrophic explosion.
Bodies and cars are hurled into the water as the fireball extends into the sky. The filmmakers avoid showing any dead or injured children, but we do see part of the aftermath of the crime scene: adult bodies laid out on the shore next to dozens of corpses already in body bags. At the morgue, we also see Claire's burned and bloodied body being examined by Carlin and a medical examiner. They notice several of her fingers have been cut off.
Other deaths result from gunshot wounds, drowning, burning and explosions. A police officer attempting to stop a killer is shot several times, including once in the head to insure his death, before his body is set on fire. An alligator is seen chewing on a human arm. A woman is bound, beaten, has her head covered with a sack, and is doused with gasoline. High-speed car chases result in multiple explosive accidents. A man is rammed with a car, crushing his legs.
Crude or Profane Language
A handful of s-words. The names of God and Jesus are used for swearing three or four times each. Also heard are "a--," "d--n" and "son of a b--ch."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Joking comments are made about smoking hash and never having too much alcohol and tobacco. A few people smoke cigarettes.
Other Negative Elements
An officer at a crime scene comments on how much can be seen of another man's unattractive backside while he's bent over working. The camera sees it, too.
Déjà Vu wants to be lots of things: a ripped-from-the-headlines, sci-fi, love story, terrorism-themed police action/thriller. It recalls director Tony Scott's own Enemy of the State, bad guy Jim Caviezel's Frequency, every time-travel episode of Star Trek, and even the Christopher Reeve romantic weeper Somewhere in Time. Is it just too much to sustain the story? Sure. Does it all unravel if you think about it too hard? You betcha. Was I on the edge of my seat most of the time anyway because I'm a sucker for Denzel Washington and pseudo-spiritual, high-concept, time-travel action/love stories? OK, yes.
To be fair, the pace is dead on, delivering expository techie dialogue, ramped-up emotional intensity, and sci-fi edged action sequences in decent proportions. Washington nails his character's well-written, smart, ready-to-go good guy. And the supporting cast is mostly likable, including love interest Paula Patton.
It's unusual for the heroic characters in an action film to so openly pray and express dependence on God's intervention, even if it is His intervention in changing history via the sci-fi-lite manipulation of time and space. The story by Bill Marsilii and Terry Rossio comes close to asserting that only God could step in and change the course of history. And if He uses geeky high-tech gadgetry and an action hero to do it, they seem to giggle, all the better.
It's too bad, then, that Bruckheimer and Scott's approach to the manipulative opening sequence in which they kill a boatload of heroic, innocent and defenseless folks is so obvious, insulting and ineffective. The pair just can't seem to resist the urge to dial everything up to 11 on the intensity meter. (How they agreed to "settle" for a PG-13, I'll never know.) Their film might have moved beyond mere nail-biter to genuinely compelling without its over-the-top-to-the-point-of-feeling-cartoonish violence. And its voyeuristic shot of Patton nude. And the inclusion of Caviezel as an incomprehensibly whacked-out terrorist instead of a villain with motivations that might actually make some kind of sense. And the nagging feeling that we've already seen all this somewhere before. Haven't we?
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Denzel Washington as Doug Carlin; Paula Patton as Claire Kuchever; Val Kilmer as Agent Pryzwarra; Jim Caviezel as Carroll Oerstadt; Adam Goldberg as Denny