The History Place - Movie Review

Vantage Point

By Jim Castagnera
Special to The History Place

No historian, at least none of a certain age, can see Vantage Point without recalling the Zapruder Film. On November 22, 1963, Abraham Zapruder stood in Dallas's Dealey Plaza, filming JFK's motorcade with his 8mm Kodachrome movie camera. Zapruder's 486 frames are without any doubt the most carefully perused and hotly debated 26 seconds of film of the 20th century. Historians, conspiracy theorists, journalists, and movie makers have variously contended that the footage proves that Oswald acted alone, or that he didn't, that the president was hit from behind and/or from the front, that shooters fired from the so-called grassy knoll, or that they didn't.

Vantage Point is the answer to the JFK-assassination junkie's dream. The film, which features Dennis Quaid as a Secret Service agent and Forest Whitaker as a tourist with a video camera, has the president of the United States appearing in a Spanish plaza, prefatory to a world summit on terrorism. Just past noon, as POTUS poses at the podium, an assassin's bullets rip the air. Multiple explosions follow, throwing the throng into a panic and setting a complex conspiracy into motion.

True to the film's title, the plaza incident is re-run four times. Viewers see the incident first through the multiple lenses of a major TV network, under the direction of a tough newswoman (Sigourney Weaver). Subsequent replays show us what Whitaker's single lens captured, as well as what the president's security detail and the terrorist leader could see.

One must assume that Director Pete Travis and Screenwriter Barry Levy had Dealey Plaza 45 years ago in their minds' eyes, as they developed and filmed this project. We, the film goers, have the cinematic equivalent here of what every historian of the Sixties and every conspiracy buff who believes Oswald was a "patsy" would give his eye teeth to possess: multiple perspectives on the crucial 26 seconds of history that belong now only to Abraham Zapruder's home movie footage.

Vantage Point also brought to this writer's mind a scene from Oliver Stone's controversial 1991 film JFK. In that tour de force, Joe Pesci's ultra-paranoid David Ferrie tells Kevin Costner's Jim Garrison, the dogged New Orleans DA, "This is a riddle inside an enigma wrapped in a mystery." Stone and Pesci can be forgiven for borrowing Winston Churchill's 1939 comment about the Soviet Union. The Kennedy assassination is exactly that.

Vantage Point uses masterful editing to illustrate how 21st century electronics can peel away the layers of the enigmatic onion. The movie also eerily illustrates how a conspiracy, as unlikely as it is difficult to disprove in the case of Kennedy's killing, might be orchestrated in our age of cell phones, Blackberries, and robotics. At the end of this fast-paced, high-action film, the viewer is left with the sense that nothing in the rather complex plot is beyond the realm of potential.

Although mainland America has been attack-free since September 11, 2001, both London and (as Vantage Point reminds us with an angry mob of anti-American protesters who meet the POTUS motorcade at the entrance of the plaza) Spain have suffered severe terrorist attacks during the intervening years. And plots have been foiled in New Jersey and elsewhere around our own nation.

Vantage Point, which opened last week, tantalizes us over what we might know about 11/22/63, had the technology existed, and cautions us about what may yet be our destiny, if we fail to appreciate the power that modern technology places in the hands of international terrorists today.

Rated PG-13 for intense violence and action, some disturbing images and brief strong language.

Jim Castagnera is the Associate Provost/Associate Counsel at Rider University. His novel of 19th and 21st century terrorism, Ned McAdoo and the Molly Maguires, is available at and an excerpt is in The History Place - Writers' Corner

Vantage Point - Official Website
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