Vantage Point gives us just that--a birds-eyed view of an assassination/terrorist attack on the U.S. president. In Spain at a landmark outdoor summit on the global war on terror President Ashton (William Hurt) is shot and a bomb explodes killing hundreds of people. For the rest of the film we see the same 15 minutes over and over but from different points of view: There’s a CNN-like news producer (Sigourney Weaver) who is the first to witness the events; the Secret Service agents (Dennis Quaid and Matthew Fox) assigned to protect the president; an American tourist (Forest Whitaker) videotaping the historic event; a Spanish cop (Eduardo Noriega) who suspects what’s going down by the surreptitious actions of his girlfriend (Ayelet Zurer) at the rally; and most importantly the head terrorist (Said Taghmaoui) who orchestrates it all. Through each of these individual perspectives we learn the truth behind the assassination attempt--and as far-fetched as it is it still isn’t pretty. This is an all-out action thriller folks--quiet subtle performances are not required. Quaid goes full blast as the veteran Secret Service agent who has already taken a bullet for the president once before and is still a bit skittish about it. But his loyalty to the president never wavers and it’s through his determination to find out what happened that propels the story forward. Fox also plays it to the hilt much like he does as Jack on TV’s Lost but the actor has a certain movie-star quality to him; he could easily transition from TV to film. Whitaker unfortunately has to play the big schlub with a heart--which at this point seems a tad beneath the Oscar-winner--but he still gives it his all. Hurt’s Head of State is another one of those dream presidents we wish we had. Taghmaoui (The Kite Runner) and Zurer (28 Weeks Later) are adequately cold-hearted as the terrorists while Edgar Ramirez (Domino) effectively emotes as a reluctant member of the terrorist cell forced to do their bidding while his brother is being held captive. Did we mention that the terrorists were cold-hearted? Right. Vantage Point’s trio of film editors (Stuart Baird Sigvaldi J. Karason Valdis Oskarsdottir) must have either thought they’d died and gone to heaven or hell depending on how much of a pain it was to cut the film. Whatever the scenario together with newbie director Peter Travis they keep the action taut and suspenseful. Each character’s POV lends itself to more information as the plot unfolds piece by piece culminating with a whopper of a car-chase scene that should leave you clenching your teeth. The use of electronic devices in the attack is also noteworthy as the main terrorist basically accesses his PDA to 1) shoot the president 2) explode bombs and 3) send the pictures of the destruction to all his friends. OK he actually doesn’t do that last part but he certainly could with that handy device of his. The only drawback to the whole scenario is the implausibility of it all--and the lack of back story. Suspending disbelief we can do but in Vantage Point’s case a little explaining would have helped.
The problem with a film in which characters stand around philosophizing about the nature of life is the fact they are standing around philosophizing about the nature of life. It can make for a compelling character piece or it can bore you to tears. Sunshine State does a little of both. The story centers on the locals of this island and how the regional real estate developers are looking to change the sleepy beachside community into a manicured resort area. One woman Marly Temple (The Sopranos' Edie Falco) is tired of running her retired father's motel and restaurant. She starts a tentative affair with a landscape architect (Timothy Hutton) but is really looking for a way out--perhaps to sell the business to the developers. The other woman Desiree Perry (Angela Bassett) returns home for a visit to show off her new husband Reggie (James McDaniel). But she has a tense relationship with her mother (Mary Alice) after being sent away by her parents at 15 for getting pregnant. Plus it seems the small black enclave in which she grew up is also being eyed by the developers. As their community is about to change both Marly and Desiree must deal with the sometimes overwhelming weight of family history and family expectations while trying to discover their own paths in life.
Of course this kind of film is an actor's dream--all characters and words with very little action. The array of talent in Sunshine State is vast with many standout performances but unfortunately just not enough substance to keep them all riveting. Falco comes off the best as the bored Marly dealing with her long-winded ornery father (played by the long-winded and ornery Ralph Waite) and her free-spirited mother (played by the delightful Jane Alexander). When Falco is on the screen the film takes on a quirky sensibility that writer/director John Sayles probably intended for the whole film. Her scenes with Hutton are packed full of interesting twists--and she definitely has one of the better lines of the film: "Having sex with me this drunk would be like being at the dentist....You know something's going on in there but you don't know what." Bassett doesn't pull her part off as well. She shows the right emotions as Desiree but somehow her storyline seems forced and the same goes for the supporting players around her. The rest of the cast--and it's considerable--fill in the blanks. Mary Steenburgen as the organizer of the local historical event known as "Buccaneer Days" and Gordon Clapp as her gambleholic husband with suicidal tendencies are also standouts.
Sayles is an eclectic filmmaker to say the least. Obviously a brilliant writer he picks his projects carefully and usually puts his own unique stamp on his films such as the powerful little gem Lone Star and the historical Eight Men Out. The framework and the setting of Sunshine State does set it apart from the rest. The director has a genuine affection for the Florida landscape shooting the entire film on Amelia Island one of the only places in history where blacks were allowed to go to the beach in segregated times. Sayles loves to dabble in the past and with some amazingly beautiful surroundings he is able to capture a certain historical feeling. Yet Sayles veers off from his usual style in how he sets his story. The writing is at times bitingly clever but it seems that Sayles is channeling director Robert Altman by trying to interweave the stories of several characters. Unfortunately he doesn't do nearly as good a job as Altman. With too many cooks in the kitchen you end up concentrating on only the characters that interest you thus tuning out the rest.