Vantage Point: Assassination Fun

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Sony Pictures

Vantage Point.

Deer season, rabbit season, duck season: these have their places on the hunters' calendar. But in movie melodrama, shooting-the-President season knows no limits. Death of a President, the British fakeumentary that imagined the assassination of George W. Bush and the succeeding imposition of martial law by the new President Cheney, was a sensation at the Toronto Film festival in September 2006, though it had little impact when it opened in the U.S. six weeks later. Last March, Shooter pinned the murder of an unidentified U.S. Commander in Chief on Mark Wahlberg, who was then obliged to uncover a government-wide conspiracy of high-level killers. And for the past six years, on 24, home viewers have spent two dozen evenings each season contemplating murderous plots that penetrate the Oval Office and threaten to change administrations with explosive suddenness.

So why wouldn't Hollywood open its latest the-Prez-is-dead movie on the 276th birthday of the country's first President? Once we had white sales on the Washington's Day holiday; now we have blood-red fantasies of the killing of a fictional Chief Executive, told in a faux-real style that summons old memories of Nov. 22, 1963, and a more recent nightmare snapshot, from last Dec. 27, of Benazir Bhutto felled by bullets and bombs. Oh, it's nothing personal, current office holders. Not even political. It's just business — the movie business. If there's anything a mogul loves, on the screen and in the box office cash register, it's dead Presidents.

Sure enough, Vantage Point scored with surprisingly robustness at the wickets, outperforming the predictions of industry analysts and seeming likely to be the weekend's No. 1 attraction. With the aid of film-biz hindsight, we can realize what Barry L. Levy, the film's writer, and its director, Pete Travis, figured out about the assassination genre: (1) that it can easily be fit into a standard action scenario and (2) that the plot can be split six or eight ways, into as many points of view. Each witness to the assassination provides important fragments of the information needed for the viewer to figure out whodunit and whether the perps will get away with their atrocity.

The movie begins in a TV-news remote trailer in Salamanca, Spain, where the hassled, blinkered executive producer (Sigourney Weaver) is trying to steer live coverage of a peace summit toward bland bromides and away from the anti-U.S. demonstrations on the periphery of the event. Once the assassins' shots hit their human target and a large bomb disperses the crowd, the movie flashes back 23 mins. and starts all over again, in be-kind-rewind fashion, and we get the perspectives of President Ashton (William Hurt), two of his Secret Service bodyguards (Dennis Quaid and Matthew Fox), an American tourist bystander (Forest Whitaker) and a few of the terrorists as they develop their scheme and attempt their escape.

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