Monday, February 9, 2009

Review: "Deja Vu"

"Deja Vu" (2006) is the third collaboration between leading man Denzel Washington and director Tony Scott (bother of Ridley). Washington (bringing his usual free-floating, dogged charisma) is an ATF agent investigating a terrorist attack on a ferry in New Orleans. He is quickly recruited, rather informally, by an experimental government agency that, through the use of many satellites, is able to look at anything that happened in the city exactly 12 hours and 4 days previous. They intend to use this technology to catch the perpetrator of the ferry attack. One drawback, however, is that they cannot rewind or record this sophisticated surveillance image (no viable explanation is given for this quite obvious dramatic devise, nor is it explained why they can only look at one thing at a time. Lazy writing on the part of Bill Marsilii and Terry Rossio, the screenwriters [seeing as the latter's previous credits include the Pirates of the Caribbean films and 1998's atrocious Godzilla remake, I suppose this is not a surprise]). As such, the team (Washington is joined by Adam Goldberg and a criminally underused Val Kilmer) spends much of the first two thirds of the film spying on the last moments of Claire Kuchever (Paula Patton), a woman who washed up burned and dead mysteriously up stream from the exploded ferry. 
Scott is a capable enough director; while not an auteur by any means, he knows how to let actors act, and he can set a scene realistically and entertainingly. But where his films usually suffer (and this one is no exception) is in the editing; there are too many unnecessary cuts and unhinged camera moves. I suppose in this case it is meant to distract from some of the plot holes and dumb science, but it makes for an unwieldy and unfocused cinematic experience. It is hard to tell if Tony Scott truly lacks clear vision as a filmmaker, or if his craft is being buried in over-editing. Given his long career of similarly edited films, I'm guessing the former. An average shot length of 2 seconds coupled with too many uncalled for camera angles are the mark of a director who is bereft of cinematic confidence. 
"Deja Vu" is very surface. It floats along pleasantly and stylishly enough, and it's fun if you try not to think about it too much, or if you get some friends together and use it as drinking game fodder.  Denzel carries the whole adventure firmly and solely upon his shoulders, and he is more than capable. 
The final third of the film slips surprisingly casually into a full out time travel picture, and it's enjoyable, if a bit derivative and simple. Sending characters back in time is always tricky, especially if you want the audience to take the whole premise seriously. Time travel being of course strictly theoretical in the real world, there are two or three fictional conventions that one must choose from and then adhere to. There is the divergent timeline, wherein our hero goes back in time and creates an alternate timeline through his actions. Then there is the predestination paradox, wherein our temporal sojourner is meant to go back in time and cause something that has already happened (see "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban"). This film seems to osculate between the two, which is not acceptable. Time travel enthusiasts will be irritated, and the uninitiated will be confused. Note to filmmakers (and storytellers in general): if your story involves time travel, commit to it, and please know what you are getting yourself into. 

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