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Smash Cut – Déjà Vu

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Time travel is difficult enough to understand, let alone build a story around.  The results, more often than not, tend to disappoint more often than they inspire.  Some do manage to capture the imagination and tell a satisfying story, and Déjà Vu falls somewhere in between. 

ATF agent Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington) investigates the terrorist bombing of an Algiers ferry shuttling a collection of sailors to a welcome home bash.  A victim discovered near the sight of the explosion begins to raise questions—though the damage to her body appears consistent with the blast, she was found nearly an hour before the incident. 

Carlin’s investigation captures the attention of Agent Pryzwarra (Val Kilmer) who heads a new investigative unit working the case, and soon, Pryzwarra solicits Carlin’s assistance.  Pryzwarra’s group possesses a revolutionary surveillance technique that allows investigators to take a vivid, real-time look at events in the past; or, more precisely, four and a half days in the past. 

High concepts like this can translate well onto film, and for a while, Déjà Vu delivers the goods.  Soon, Carlin learns that they have the ability to affect past events.  Despite their efforts, however, the future (er, present) remains unchanged. Indeed, their efforts underline the principle problem with time travel, the one hurdle every such story must overcome: the notion of paradox.  Here, the narrative starts to fall apart. 

While we discover efforts to change the past only end up reinforcing future (or present) events, you get a sense of futile inevitability that both drive and challenge Carlin’s efforts to stop the event before it takes place.  It’s a set up for a pay off that ends up forgotten, or just plain ignored; either way, it only distracts.  I do not like scratching my head watching these movies. 

The filmmakers maintain a clear separation between events past and present—Carlin’s pursuit of a vehicle four days in the past makes for a unique and enthralling experience.  Some credit for such an achievement must go to the writers for dreaming this stuff up, but the vision ultimately gets its look from the director. 

Director Tony Scott has collaborated numerous times with Washington.  Though we may never again witness the brilliant tension that saw Washington and Gene Hackman debating over Lipizzaner stallions in Crimson Tide, Scott can at least deliver a singular style that doesn’t ever seem to tire.   He’s a little less in-your-face this time as opposed to the claustrophobic intensity of Man on Fire, and relies a little less on the tricky photography that overcrowded Enemy of the State

Washington is, once again, the likeable boy scout in pursuit of justice.  It’s not as interesting to watch as his more villainous roles, but like other great talents, he has the ability to make even the words “I’d try” sound honest and compelling.  His foe, on the other hand, could have used a little work.  I like Jim Caviezel.  He can play any part that’s handed him, and it was fun to see him play a villain.  He gives this guy just enough of an edge that the minute you see him, you hate him.   My only caveat would be that he’s much too reminiscent of a Tim McVeigh archetype, which not only strains his credibility, but his relevancy as well.   

Not a bad rental.  The filmmakers deserve props for turning an otherwise cookie-cutter plot into an innovative conceptual ride.  Good time travel movies are rare, and while Déjà Vu may have its flaws, it clearly belongs in the good pile.  

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Written by taj

August 7, 2007 at 8:00 am

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