Much has been written lately about the way films related to the Iraq war and terrorism have failed to find traction with American audiences. Some blame war fatigue, others the middling quality of the films being produced, but the real problem may be a question of political courage: Whether they're about soldiers coming home, dead or alive (Home Of The Brave, Grace Is Gone, In The Valley Of Elah), or reviving fantasies of American might (The Kingdom), the discussion is more around the War On Terror than actually about it. Even by those meager standards, political thrillers don't get much more craven and shallow than Vantage Point, a gimmicky Rashomon-like take on an assassination, unfolding from multiple perspectives. With the whys behind the shooting of an American president at an anti-terror summit rendered completely irrelevant, all that remains is a toothless whodunit, constructed like an episode of 24 that keeps looping back on itself.
Told from eight different points of view, Vantage Point takes place around a crowded square in Spain, where the president (William Hurt) is scheduled to deliver a summit-opening speech. After he's riddled with gunshots on his way to his podium, the film sorts out the puzzle by looking at the individual pieces: Dennis Quaid and Matthew Fox, two Secret Service agents who grew close after Quaid took a bullet for the president months earlier; Forest Whitaker, an American tourist who picks up a lot of information on his palm-sized HD camera; Sigourney Weaver, the cynical director of a cable-network newscast; Eduardo Noriega, a plainclothes Spanish policemen with ties to the city's mayor; and other potential good and bad guys.
The loaded cast does what it can with the paper-thin characterizations, but Vantage Point gets hijacked early by its high-concept premise, and it quickly devolves into a by-the-numbers thriller with the numbers out of order. Pete Travis' previous film, Omagh, brought a real historical tragedy to life with no-frills conviction, but perhaps that's owed to the influence of writer-producer Paul Greengrass, who mastered this brand of docu-style immediacy with Bloody Sunday, United 93, and the last two Bourne movies. Here, Travis dutifully pastes the story-shards together, but he and the actors are hamstrung by a script that's so busy piling on the twists that it never pauses to consider what they mean.