When I slide nine bucks through the security drawer at my local Cineplex, I’m exchanging my hard-earned cash for a full, theatrical experience. I love to show up early and nab seats in the surround-sound sweetspot, I look forward to buying a bag of buttery goodness from the concession stand, and I adore… adore sitting through the trailers that precede the main attraction. While some folks clearly get antsy after two or three previews, I sit there hoping for more. Trailers drive my anticipation, introduce me to flicks I didn’t know existed, and offer a rare glimpse into an upcoming film’s tone, direction, and thematic focus.
Now I’m a fairly composed fellow with plenty of patience to go around, but there are a few things that really get under my skin. In spite of my affection for trailers, any preview that reveals plot twists, character deaths, or other significant story developments genuinely boils my blood. Which brings me to ‘Vantage Point.’ The first time the trailer for this rather unorthodox political thriller started rolling in my local theater, I was hooked -- it showed off the film’s impressive cast, fascinating setup, and multi-layered, non-linear structure. Unfortunately, my building anticipation came crashing down the second the well-executed trailer exposed a crucial twist in the story, thereby ruining the only thing that gives ‘Vantage Point’ any serious dramatic weight.
Detailing the same twenty-three minute period from six different perspectives, ‘Vantage Point’ opens as President Henry Ashton (William Hurt) arrives at a Spanish peace summit to deliver a speech to an enormous crowd. He’s flanked by Secret Service agents Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid) and Kent Taylor (a misused Matthew Fox), both of whom are sorting out their own personal career issues. When Ashton is assassinated by an unseen shooter and a bomb is detonated in the panicked public square, Barnes finds an American tourist (Forest Whitaker) who caught the fatal shot on camera. From there he crosses paths with a suspicious Spanish police officer (Eduardo Noriega), a television news producer (Sigourney Weaver), and a pair of shady locals (Ayelet Zurer and Said Taghmaoui) who always seem to be one step ahead. As chaos erupts in every direction, Barnes rushes to uncover the identities of the assassins before they have the chance to escape the city.
The ‘Vantage Point’ trailer fiasco is a shame because the film itself has quite a few things going for it -- most of which I already mentioned in passing. Former television mini-series director Pete Travis (‘Henry VIII,’ ‘The Jury’) has assembled a superb cast of subtle A-listers and upstart B-level talent who bring naturalism and believability to a script that, to be blunt, relies on an incredibly absurd scenario. Dennis Quaid brings weight and pathos to his performance, William Hurt plays one of the most unique cinematic Presidents I’ve ever seen, and the always reliable Forest Whitaker realistically transforms his everyman into a regular everyday hero. Better still, Travis wastes little time with extraneous introductions, quickly dropping his finely-tuned cast into the thick of the action before replaying Ashton’s assassination from every conceivable angle. The director grabbed my attention and had my brain hopping from one scene to the next as the film rewinds and begins anew every few minutes.
Sadly, somewhere around the forty-five minute mark, Travis starts to lose his grip on the sprawling story. What begins as an unconventionally fractured thriller soon devolves into a tiresome whodunit that fails to deliver a solid conclusion. In fact, a second (and more important) plot twist that does make it to the screen unspoiled will be spotted from a mile away (especially by anyone who’s seen any number of comparable thrillers in the last three decades). To make matters worse, Travis inexplicably abandons the script’s segregated perspectives in favor of following all of the characters simultaneously. It’s only then that we get a clearer glimpse behind the director’s curtain -- without its looping structure, I realized the story is riddled with clichés, the characters are underdeveloped, and the assassination relies on neigh-omnipresent bad guys and a phenomenal amount of coincidences. In short, ‘Vantage Point’ proves to be just another average thriller.
Despite an ill-conceived, spoiler-laden theatrical trailer, ‘Vantage Point’ could still have been a unique and edgy political thriller. Alas, a shaky script, uncertain direction, and a few questionable plot developments lead the film into familiar waters. Don’t get me wrong, ‘Vantage Point’ has enough intense action and solid performances to entertain casual filmfans on a rainy day, but it never manages to deliver the sure-handedness and intrigue that its trailer promised.
’Vantage Point’ may not be the revolutionary genre piece I had hoped for, but the Blu-ray edition’s 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer offers a striking, near-perfect replication of the theatrical experience. The film’s subtly-shifting palette consistently offers bold primaries, natural fleshtones, vibrant contrast levels, and deep blacks. In spite of an onslaught of on-screen chaos and rapid-fire action, the image remains crisp and clear -- I didn’t catch any motion artifacts, bursts of source noise, or bothersome DNR. What I did notice was the transfer’s impeccably precise fine object detail. Pores, hair, and fabric boast lifelike textures, rising dust and flying debris have been rendered with care, and spotless shadow delineation reveals the intricacies of the film’s locales and sets. As it stands, it’s tough to complain about ‘Vantage Point’s gorgeous presentation.
While discerning viewers may detect hints of edge enhancement and note that long-distance crowd shots challenge the transfer’s already-high resolution, I can’t say either minor issue distracted me from its overwhelming visual qualities. In fact, compared to its lackluster DVD counterpart, the Blu-ray edition of ‘Vantage Point’ is a revelation. Once again, Sony has delivered a stunning transfer that truly showcases the benefits of high definition.
’Vantage Point’ features a bombastic, top tier Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track that leaves nothing to the imagination. Considering the sheer complexity of the film’s soundscape, I expected to find at least one weak link in the sonic chain. However, between its elaborate sound design and the studio’s exceptionally fine-tuned mastering, this Blu-ray release includes one of the best audio tracks I’ve heard this year.
Dialogue is clean, crisp, and perfectly prioritized throughout the entire soundfield. Better still, panic and pandemonium practically erupt from the rear channels as the mix balances each sound with the vigilant ambience already established in every scene. LFE-support is also top notch -- throttling explosions shake the floor, sharp gunfire registers in the chest as much as the ear, and the nauseating crunch of crashing cars sounds all too convincing. The experience is more than immersive, it’s startlingly realistic. To top it all off, transparent pans, strictly defined directionality, and palpable depth seal the deal and cement ‘Vantage Point’s audio superiority. All in all, even if the disc’s visuals weren’t up to snuff, this release would be worth your attention on the merit of its TrueHD track alone.
The Blu-ray edition of ‘Vantage Point’ includes all of the special features that appear on its standard DVD, as well as a few exclusives (which are detailed in the next section). Most of the video content is even presented in high definition. While I wouldn’t call anything in this supplemental package groundbreaking, it does offer a well-rounded collection of features that should please fans of the film itself.
While the story didn’t do much for me, the Blu-ray edition of ‘Vantage Point’ is a technical showstopper. It features a stunning video transfer, a reference-level audio track, and a decent spread of supplements. I can't wholeheartedly recommend the film itself, but this disc is the sort of demo material high definition was made for. Give this one a look and see for yourself.