American presidents often don't fare well in major motion pictures. Sometimes they get shot. Sometimes they get kidnapped. And sometimes, as in the case of Vantage Point, they get shot and kidnapped.
The story begins with cable news coverage of American President Ashton's presence in Salamanca, Spain, where he's on hand to publicly formalize a new coalition of nations united against terrorism. It's a high-powered summit that he hopes might—just might—curtail hijackings and bombings and all manner of terrorist activity.
Only someone forgot to tell the terrorists.
Sensing the summit could put an end to their bloody, headline-grabbing endeavors, a small group of resourceful terrorists decides enough is enough. No sooner has the president begun waving to the crowd than they shoot him ... then blow up the platform where he was supposed to speak ... then send a suicide bomber into a nearby hotel ... and kill a score of Secret Service agents ... and race through Salamanca's narrow city streets in police cars and ambulances ... and ...
We end up witnessing this frenzied, 23-minute stretch of violence and desperation from six different perspectives. With each take, a different set of eyes fills in gaps in the story, from the cable news crew to an American tourist with a handheld camcorder to the steely eyed Secret Service agent determined to ensure the president's safety.
Each vantage point drags us farther down a narrative rabbit hole of deception, betrayal and violence as the good guys race to catch the terrorists and save the leader of the free world.
The moral center of Vantage Point is Thomas Barnes, a grizzled Secret Service agent who took a bullet for President Ashton six months earlier. He's still a little gun shy (so to speak), but he's back on the job, willing to do whatever it takes to safeguard his charge. He's soon asked to go to the limit, risking his life to save the president and to catch those who would harm him. Why? It's his job—his duty. And it's undeniably refreshing to see someone follow through on his commitments with so much gusto.
Howard Lewis has no such commitments. He's on vacation, in fact, an American tourist without a care in the world. Except, that is, for his estranged family back home. But when he finds himself filming the international crisis unfolding before him, Lewis doesn't shrink from the new responsibilities that immediately present themselves. Indeed, he eagerly helps law enforcement, then he goes above and beyond by chasing suspects around the city on foot, his camera perpetually rolling. He also befriends a little girl, and when she can't find her mother, he carries her in his arms to a police officer.
[Spoiler Warning] When Lewis later sees the girl standing in the middle of a busy street about to be crushed by an oncoming ambulance, he leaps into the roadway and grabs her—saving her life. Equally important: his experiences in Spain remind him of how deeply he cares for his wife and children, and by the end of the film we sense he's recommitted to making his marriage and family life work.
For his part, President Ashton is determined to see this summit through, regardless of the personal danger. He is also shown to be a man of principle, and he refuses to let his aides bludgeon him into a hasty and unwise response to terrorism when they get word of a new attack.
Religion is almost completely absent in Vantage Point. Apart from one passing reference to the international Muslim group known as the mujahideen and a quick scene in which a man sprints through a church, it's not seen or heard. That omission is curious, considering that modern-day terrorism oftentimes has religious underpinnings. Suicide bombers, this film has. Motivations for why suicide bombers act as they do? Not so much.
A woman in a revealing blouse appears to be in the middle of a love triangle. One apparent lover (Enrique) spots her with another man (Javier), and he watches as the two talk closely and intimately. When Enrique confronts her, she says that she only has eyes for him. She kisses Enrique and tells him that once the day is through, they can run away together.
[Spoiler Warning] In truth, the woman is a terrorist, and her apparent liaison with Javier is more confrontation than conversation. It's not personal or sexual, it's business: She's holding Javier's brother hostage to ensure Javier will follow through on the dirty deeds he alone can perform.
The film's two primary plot points involve the presidential shooting—he takes two bullets to his chest—and the explosion that follows, a fiery detonation that tears through the rally and injures or kills dozens. Audiences see many disfigured and bleeding bodies strewn in the rubble, as well as people caring for the survivors. These two scenes are repeated six times, of course. And they form the crux of Vantage Point. We simply can't get away from these violent events.
But there's more to deal with than just this endless loop of mayhem. If Secret Service agents were animals, they'd be on the endangered species list in Salamanca. Many of them die once the terrorists' plot begins to unfold. We watch as they're shot, sliced, stabbed, blown up and mashed in car accidents. That said, the camera lens rarely focuses long on these violent acts; we witness them in rapid-fire succession. Additionally, this violence is intense, but relatively gore-free. The terrorists blow up part of a hotel, shoot and kill a bound-and-gagged captive, and even shoot one of their own at point-blank range. Elsewhere, a man gets hit by cars twice while running across busy streets; a traffic accident claims the lives of several people; and numerous cars are involved in accidents during a prolonged chase through Salamanca's streets—and sidewalks and stairways—with people fleeing accordingly.
Crude or Profane Language
In addition to the literal explosions in Vantage Point, a lone f-bomb gets lobbed as well. Characters drop the s-word about a dozen times. God's name is misused a few more times than that (including a few pairings with "d--n"), while Jesus' name is spoken in vain a half-dozen times. A smattering of other curses ("b--ch," "a--" and "h---") are also used.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Agent Barnes contemplates taking some unidentified prescription medication, but decides not to do so. When the terrorists kidnap the president, they use chloroform to knock him out and apparently keep him sedated through a drug delivered via an oxygen mask.
Other Negative Elements
Several important characters deceive and betray each other. One of them unwittingly becomes a mule for a bomb.
The tagline for Vantage Point is "Eight strangers. Eight points of view. One truth." Sounds like it might be a Hitchcockian whodunit, right?
This film is more like an entire season of the frenetic TV series 24 wrapped into 90 minutes, complete with government moles, outlandish plot twists, scads of violence and an old-school hero (both literally and figuratively) willing to do almost anything to save the day.
Agent Barnes comes across as a noble figure who does good because it's the right thing to do. But this film's ambition is thin. It refuses to grapple with any of the larger questions it could've posed: the war on terror, the nature of deception and betrayal. Frankly, there isn't time as we race from one plot point to the next, one explosion to the next and one killing to next with barely a breath.
Clearly, there are heavy ideologies at play in the backstory. People don't just go around shooting and blowing up things without some sort of reason—real or imagined. Nor do Secret Service agents lunge in front of bullets without some sort of assurance that it's the right thing to do. But ideology is left to the imagination of the viewer here: The closest the terrorists come to delivering any kind of message is when the plot's mastermind says, "The beauty of American arrogance is that they cannot imagine a world in which they are not a step ahead." But it goes no further than that.
Which, in the end, makes this nothing more (or less) than a 90-minute, popcorn-munching diversion—a vanilla thriller topped with CGI pepper sauce. It's a prototypical PG-13 romp through high explosives and low language, in which no one learns much in the end. At least that's the way things look from my vantage point.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Dennis Quaid as Thomas Barnes; Forest Whitaker as Howard Lewis; Matthew Fox as Kent Taylor; William Hurt as President Ashton; Sigourney Weaver as Rex Brooks
Pete Travis ( Dredd)