Ten years ago, almost to the day, I visited Salamanca, one of the most beautiful towns in Spain. I saw a charming cloister called “The House of Shells” and an awe-inspiring cathedral built during the Renaissance. I toured the famous University of Salamanca where I saw the classroom where the famous Friar Louis de Leon taught, explored the old library, and hunted for the “frog,” an old Spanish student tradition.
The centerpiece of the town was the beautiful Plaza Mayor, or center square; beautifully decorated and glowing in the sunlight, it is considered the nicest Plaza Mayor in all of Spain. I spent quite a memorable hour there, in wonderful company, sampling tapas at an outdoor café and exploring some art galleries which lined the square.
Now, ten years later, along comes a Hollywood movie set in this very square; of course I had to check it out. (Except for some distance and helicopter shots, the movie was actually filmed in a replica of Salamanca’s Plaza Mayor in Mexico City, but that’s irrelevant.)
The film is called “Vantage Point;” it’s an action/political thriller which was just released on DVD. It’s the exciting story of an assassination attempt by a group of terrorists on the President of the United States who is visiting Spain. What makes this film so unique is that the story is told over and over again from many different points of view. Each character has a unique perspective on the events and sees different parts of the puzzle, and therefore has a different understanding of what’s going on.
First we see the key 15 minutes from the point-of-view of a TV producer (Sigourney Weaver), then a secret service agent (Dennis Quaid), then from the view of a man who seems to be a Spanish police officer (Eduardo Noriega). Next we follow a tourist (Forest Whitaker) who has videotaped the whole thing. Then from the point of view of the President himself (William Hurt). And then finally from the views of the terrorists (Matthew Fox, Saïd Taghmaoui, Ayelet Zurer, Edgar Ramirez, and others), as everything is eventually revealed.
I must say that I found this to be an interesting story-telling device. Because different people experience the same events in different ways from different perspectives, each sees only their own little piece of the puzzle, missing the big picture. Unfortunately, I’m sorry to say, that in the hand of a novice director, Pete Travis, it comes off more as a gimmick rather than a serious comment on the nature of individual perspective. Because in the end—and I hope I’m not breaking my critics code by revealing too much—there is a single objective truth as all the pieces are put together, the mystery is solved, and you do understand exactly what happened. A bit disappointing since previews seemed to promise subjectivity.
Okay, philosophy about truth aside, the story is interesting and there are several neat plot twists, although one of them I find to be highly implausible. But if you can suspend your disbelief enough, you can get passed it and actually have fun sitting on the edge of your seat.
There are a few other flaws in the movie, in my opinion. The car chase goes on way too long. So does the foot chase. The death of a reporter is glossed over. And the President’s politics are never explained.
But my biggest problem with the film is the stereotypical way it treats the terrorists. We don’t know where they come from, what are their ultimate goals, why they are staging this incident. And with one exception, we have no idea what motivates them, either politically, personally, or psychologically. They are really just cardboard cutouts that we can’t take seriously. We just have to assume that they are bad guys and that’s that.
In all fairness, though, one could make similar criticisms of just about any movie in this genre. So it’s probably not fair to criticize a movie for being an action/thriller when that is, in fact, what it is, and most fans of the genre know not to expect anything deeper.
So basically, what it comes down to, is I’ll give the story a C+, but the style in which it is told an A-. As long as you’re not looking for an understanding of complex international issues and just want to see a fun assassination plot unfold in a unique way of storytelling, I say go for it.
And if you’ve actually been in Salamanca’s Plaza Mayor, like me, so much the better. It may bring back some happy memories. Memories that are more pleasant than this film.