Saturday, April 11, 2009


Saw two movies this past week that I wanted to weigh in on - Smart People and Vantage Point.

First, Smart People - The movie stars Dennis Quaid, Ellen Page, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Thomas Haden Church. The film tells the story of Lawrence Wetherhold (Quaid), a literature professor at Carnegie Mellon. Lawrence lost his wife some years before the movie begins, and he appears to have been emotionally stunted ever since. He relates to his daughter, Vanessa (Page), on a purely intellectual basis, and he's cut off entirely from both his grown son and adopted brother, Chuck (Haden Church).

However, after a medical emergency, Lawrence meets Janet Hartigan (Parker), a former student now working as a physician. The two feel drawn to one another, and Lawrence's shell of smarts slowly begins to crack.

I really wanted to like this movie. The cast is great, and the concept, I think, is a good one. The problem? I really didn't give a hoot about most of the characters until the movie was damn near over. I never "got" what made Lawrence and Janet good for one another. I also found it difficult to relate to any of the characters. I mean, I understand that Lawrence needs to be an arrogant blowhard at times, but maybe a bit more humanity on Quaid's part (and in the script?) in some of the early scenes would have helped me out here. Ditto with Parker, who exasperated me to no end for no apparent reason.

Page's Vanessa and Haden Church's Chuck were the only things that kept me watching. Page did a good job portraying Vanessa's confusion, her defense mechanisms, her vulnerability, and I appreciated it. Haden Church provided the only lightness in the script, which was desperately needed considering all the just plain draggy folks we were having to spend time with. I was desperately looking for such from all the characters, but I left disappointed.

Not a must-see.

Now, Vantage Point, on the other hand, is worth going out and hunting for. The movie covers an intense hourlong period in the lives of several key characters. At the culmination of a historic peace summit in Salamanca, Spain, an attempt is made on the life of the President of the United States. Each one of the primary characters sees and knows something about the true culprit. Over the course of the film, the hour is rewinded and replayed through the eyes of each character until, finally, the audience has the whole story.

This was a great action thriller. I loved the style and premise of the movie, and I really loved the fact that, even though the movie was largely about action, all the performers were really strong in their roles.

The cast was great, with heavy-hitters even in small roles. Matthew Fox plays Agent Taylor, who serves on the President's Secret Service detail. Dennis Quaid plays Agent Thomas Barnes, who's recently returned to the detail after taking a bullet for the President the previous year. William Hurt plays the Prez, and Sigourney Weaver has a great (but small) part as Rex, a television journalist on-site to cover the summit. Forest Whitaker turns in a touching performance as Howard, an American with a troubled marriage in town to observe the festivities. There are also several foreign actors in the film that you may not recognize, but who deliver the goods on screen just as well as their famous co-stars - Edgar Ramirez, Ayelet Zurer, Eduardo Noriega, and Said Taghmaqui.

I won't spoil how everything shakes out, but the ending had me on the very edge of my seat. I also think the movie made some interesting larger points about global politics and terrorism without bashing us all over the head.

See this movie.

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