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Posts Tagged ‘conspiracy film’

Vantage Point (2008)

06/08/2011 1 comment

Eight strangers.
Eight points of view.
One truth.

Vantage Point is a political thriller action film directed by Pete Travis, adapted from a screenplay written by Barry Levy. It stars Dennis Quaid, Matthew Fox, Forest Whitaker, Sigourney Weaver, and William Hurt.

A lot can happen in 23 minutes. Today, President Henry Ashton will be attending a political summit in Salambanca, Spain, to promote an international antiterrorism treaty. The summit is being attended by thousands of spectators and covered by the news crew of GNN, who are all eager to see and hear and record what Ashton has to say. However, as Ashton is about to speak, the summit suddenly explodes in a series of terrifying events as Ashton is shot by an unknown gunman, followed by a series of bombs being detonated, including one that takes out much of the staging area for the summit, leaving hundreds injured and dead. After this shocking event, the movie takes you back through the past 23 minutes several times, each from the point of view of eight different strangers, and each time the viewer learns more of the story and finds more pieces to the puzzle, until the full extent of the conspiracy is revealed at last.

I generally enjoy unconventional storytelling methods. The Rashomon style has long fascinated me, and in this case, rather than each witness providing a subjective interpretation of the events, each witness simply sees different parts of the overall story. Going over and over the same span of 23 minutes might seem like it would get repetitive after the first three iterations, but I found this treatment of the multiple-witnesses convention remained engaging throughout as the plot unfolds, with each 23-minute span offering different viewpoints of the same events. What seems like a simple setup turns into a complex series of interweaving events that ultimately spiral towards the climax in unpredictable ways.

In the course of exploring these different perspectives, we also learn a lot about the witnesses themselves: Rex Brooks, whose job is to offer as complete a picture as she can to the television public while keeping things interesting; Thomas Barnes, a burned-out secret service agent who once saved the President from a gunman and whose primary goal is still to defend him from any threat, even as he doubts his ability to do so; Enrique, who is assigned to guard the mayor of Salambanca and finds himself swept up in the terrorist attack; President Ashton himself, who must weigh his own safety against that of the country he leads; Howard Lewis, a tourist just out to videotape the rally but forced to become a hero under unlikely circumstances; and a little girl named Anna, who is attending the political summit with her mother and finds herself an unwitting witness to several key events, only to get separated from her mother as the terror unfolds. While each witness does offer his or her own spin to the events, you also come to care what happens to them as their respective stories interweave with the overall plot, offering several worm’s-eye views of this chain reaction that will ultimately have long-reaching consequences for all of them.

While some may tire of the repeated views of the same span of 23 minutes from different angles, I found the exploration of the central event to be fascinating, and would recommend political thriller fans at least rent Vantage Point. It’s amazing how much things can change just by altering your perspective.

The Fugitive (1993)


“All right, listen up, people. Our fugitive has been on the run for ninety minutes. Average foot speed over uneven ground barring injuries is 4 miles-per-hour. That gives us a radius of six miles. What I want from each and every one of you is a hard-target search of every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse in that area. Checkpoints go up at fifteen miles. Your fugitive’s name is Dr. Richard Kimble. Go get him.”

The Fugitive is a thriller film directed by Andrew Davis and based on the television series of the same name, one of the few such television-to-film adaptations to be nominated for an Academy Award. It stars Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones, Joe Pantoliano, and Sela Ward.

When Dr. Richard Kimble is a respected, successful surgeon, happily married, and living the high life. He is well-respected by his colleagues, and he appears to be well on his way to a long and lucrative career. So when he is convicted of viciously murdering his wife and sentenced to death, everyone is shocked – least of all Dr. Kimble, who maintains that the attack was carried out by a one-armed man. When the transport bus he’s on crashes, he takes the opportunity to escape in the hopes of uncovering the identity of the true murderer and bringing him to justice. Hot on his tail is U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard, a no-nonsense deputy who is not about to let any prisoners remain unaccounted-for – including Kimble. As Kimble uses his wits and truckloads of chutzpah to evade the Marshals and find out which one-armed man out of hundreds in Chicago could have killed his wife and why, he uncovers a dark conspiracy behind her murder and and his own framing that could put him in even more danger than he already is.

Quick note up-front: I have never seen the television series this movie is based on. Therefore, I will review this movie based on its own merits as a movie. The basic set-up is simple, as outlined above, but after that Kimble’s hunt for his wife-killer and Gerard’s hunt for his escaped fugitive turn into a multilayered game of cat-and-mouse that had me on the edge of my seat the whole way between narrow-escapes, near-misses, and displays of cool-headedness under pressure that would have made Frank Abagnale proud. While some of Kimble’s antics might seem a bit far-fetched at times (like the leap off the aqueduct), he gets a pass through sheer desperation: by the end of it, there are at least four ways he could meet a bad end – therefore, he has nothing to lose in his prusuit of his wife’s murderer. As for Deputy Gerard, at no time does he come off as a real villain, because he has a job to do, which as he sees it is to catch a known murderer. I was rooting for both of them, even though they were essentially two protagonists working at cross-purposes.

I enjoyed the casting choices. Harrison Ford has long established himself as a serious dramatic actor since his days as Indiana Jones and Han Solo, and he fares well as the wrongfully accused Dr. Kimble, demonstrating a surgeon’s talent for thinking on his feet and reacting quickly but calmly to new adverse circumstances. Tommy Lee Jones also does well as his foil, Deputy Sam Gerard, setting himself up as the Reasonable Authority Figure he would play in half a dozen other films later, including Agent K in Men in Black. He is friendly and likeable even as he goes after Our Intrepid Hero with the tenacity of a bulldog. On a minor note, I’ve seen Sela Ward (the late Mrs. Kimble) in a couple other role since this movie – an emergency room doctor in The Day After Tomorrow and ex-Mrs. House in House, and it appears that tangentially medical roles suit her well, even when she plays a character that serves only as a plot point.

Whether you’re a fan of the original TV series of this is the first you’ve heard of it, give The Fugitive a shot. It’s a tense, straightforward chase movie that will have you rooting for both sides as they head for a common goal: justice.

Minority Report (2002)

04/18/2011 1 comment

Wouldn’t it be great if we could prevent crimes before they were committed? I mean, that’s the goal of any law enforcement agency, because investigation and prosecution of any crime takes resources, and with something like murder there’s no guarantee that things will be made right ever again. Figuring out how to flag people before a crime can be committed sounds awesome… until they flag you for something you haven’t done yet. Then things get a little… complicated.

Minority Report is a sci fi thriller film directed by Steven Spielberg and based on the short story “The Minority Report” by Philip K. Dick. It stars Tom Cruise, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, and Max von Sydow.

It is the year 2054. John Anderton is the head of Washington, D.C.’s PreCrime police force, who tracks and pre-emptively stops future murders with the aid of three pre-cogs, mutated humans who can see the future. Anderton has been a bit of a mess since the unsolved disappearance of his son, and while his obsession led him to join PreCrime, it has also resulted in his wife leaving him and his addiction to an illegal psychoactive drug. Pre-Crime’s success in preventing murders means it is poised to go nation-wide, but on the eve of this event, the system is audited by one Danny Witwer from the Department of Justice, during which the pre-cogs predict a murder – to be committed by John Anderton. Now on the run from his own co-workers, Anderton tries to solve a murder he hasn’t committed yet, of a man he’s never heard of, but it isn’t long before he finds himself immersed in another cold case connected to PreCrime. What he finds out about both cases threatens to shake the supposedly infallible PreCrime system to its core…

I am not a huge fan of Tom Cruise. He’s done some good movies, of course, but many of them seem to play off the fact that he’s pretty rather than a good actor. Fortunately, Minority Report is one of his successes. As is generally the case in films adapted from Philip K. Dick, the plot is tight and intricate, and the inclusion of precognition in a law-enforcement setting only enhances the story rather than cripples it. Spielberg took great pains to nudge the future technology over to the “hard” end of the sci fi scale, and many technologies portrayed in the movie (such as the data tiles and the 3-d screens) have since been developed in real life. The near-future portrayed in Minority Report feels real and organic, allowing the plot to gleefully deconstruct the idea of PreCrime in a logical fashion.

Of course, throughout the film is an exploration of free-will vs. determinism, similar to that seen in Paycheck: if an agent that can see into the future predicts an outcome, is it set in stone? Are the players in the prediction fated to hurtle blindly towards an inevitable outcome, or can they choose their future? Here, the impetus is more of an emotional one than a logical one: Anderton fully intends to kill the man who took his son, no matter who he is or why he did it. This conflicts with his cop instincts to bring the culprit to justice, but seriously – what parent would not want vengeance on the behalf of their child? What parent would hesitate to kill anyone who hurt their kid? Anderton’s motives are sound and sympathetic, and his moment of truth at the climax will have any parent nodding in recognition.

If you want a thrilling whodunnit film with a new twist, and you don’t absolutely hate Tom Cruise, I suggest picking up Minority Report. It will have you on the edge of your seat from the moment that red ball drops.