Plot holes plague 'Vantage Point'

Ayelet Zurer's contribution to the film should be a source of pride for Israeli audiences.

Ayelet Zurer 88 224 (photo credit: Sony Pictures)
Ayelet Zurer 88 224
(photo credit: Sony Pictures)
Her performance alone isn't enough to justify a trip to the movie theater, but fans of Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer will nevertheless get a kick out of seeing the Tel Aviv native acting seductive, sinister and generally mysterious in Vantage Point, the big-budget Hollywood thriller opening in Israel on Thursday. With her dark hair and unreadable eyes, Zurer proves well-cast in the role of Veronica, an International Woman of Mystery who plays a key part in this drama about a plot to assassinate the American president. Set in Spain but filmed in Mexico, the movie opens with a TV news producer squabbling with a reporter over how to cover the president's arrival at an international peace summit. Though the scene's dialogue is trite, all the talk about cameras offers a clever hint at the major theme of the movie - which, as its name suggests, is about how perceptions of history can change, depending on where you're standing. Or maybe not. Attributing anything as highfalutin as a "theme" to Vantage Point may be giving too much credit to the film, which despite an A-list cast and a world-class budget, isn't exactly Rashomon, even if the two share structural similarities and purposely contradictory storylines. Like Kurosawa's 1950 classic, Vantage Point observes its central event from one character's point of view, and then revisits it - and revisits it and revisits it - answering some questions and posing new ones as it retells the story from different angles. The set-up proves intriguing, intriguing, intriguing and intriguing - and then, just as it begins to get repetitive, breaks out of the structure and follows the story to its rather ambiguous end. That end turns out to be a fairly preposterous letdown in this case - more on that later - but the build-up itself offers an impressively breathless ride, telling the film's central story as it's experienced by figures including the TV producer (Sigourney Weaver), a Secret Service agent (Dennis Quaid), an American tourist (Oscar winner Forest Whitaker), and the US president (Oscar winner William Hurt). Opening as the commander-in-chief prepares to speak alongside a number of other world leaders - figures on the outdoor podium include a look-alike of Saudi Arabia's current king - the film looks on as the president approaches the microphone, begins to speak, and is shot multiple times through the chest, minutes before a bomb rips through the plaza. At a hotel not far away, a second bomb tears through the lobby before a flurry of bullets is unleashed upstairs. DIRECTED BY Peter Travis from a script by Barry Levy, Vantage Point opens with a startling mix of action and suspense, reversing viewers' impressions of some characters while simply killing others off. Though Zurer's Veronica never gets a segment of her own, the character embodies many of the best elements of this intentionally uncertain movie, appearing to some characters as a paramedic, to others as a terrorist, and barely registering for still more. Like much of the film, Zurer's scenes are bracing - several are paced like an Olympic sprint - and tease viewers as they try to get their heads around the conspiracy behind the assassination attempt. The downside of that constantly shifting perspective, however, is that Veronica and the other characters - as well as pivotal elements of the plot - never have a chance to fully develop or coalesce. Muslim terrorism, we eventually learn, plays at least a partial role in the conspiracy - a shadowy group called the Mujihadeen Brigade is involved - but the motives of the bombers stay unclear, as do the links between them. It's fine - compelling, even - to suggest that a religious fanatic might join forces with a tank-top-wearing seductress, but some kind of explanation is in order, as should be the case with other even more unlikely developments in the plot. But few are forthcoming. It's difficult, in hindsight, to identify the precise moment when Vantage Point lurches into nonsense - following such a strong start, the candidates simply pile up too fast during the film's out-of-control denouement. Though problematic moments also occur in the movie's first half, the film initially zooms ahead quickly enough - and forcefully enough - that you either let them go or don't think about them until later. But speed ultimately isn't sufficient to get Vantage Point past its plot holes, which by the end of the film stretch bigger than the US trade deficit. By the time it ditches its opening structure for a more traditional use of the camera, the movie has spun itself in a thousand ridiculous directions, devolving into a car chase that defies so many laws of motion that even James Bond might raise an eyebrow. A subplot about a small girl and an ice cream cone gets just as emotionally manipulative as viewers might have expected, all the while setting up an ending that is both literally and figuratively a wreck. American critics pounced on Vantage Point on its opening weekend last month, perhaps grumpy over how the film compared to that Sunday's Oscar nominees. But while it certainly won't be a candidate for next year's statuettes, the movie is only marginally more logic-resistant than the Bourne films. So while it suffers from an end that runs utterly amok, the movie's first half generates nearly enough goodwill to hold on. It's yet another reminder of an important law of action films: A serious suspension of disbelief is almost always necessary, no matter what your vantage point.