Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint;
preserve my life from the dread enemy.
Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked,
from the scheming of evildoers,
who whet their tongues like swords,
who aim bitter words like arrows,
shooting from ambush at the blameless;
they shoot suddenly and without fear.
Psalm 64 could well be the prayer of Secret Service agent Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid) and also of the man he has risked his life to protect, US President Ashton (William Hurt). In a film bearing a slight re semblance to the great Japanese film Rashomon, we see the same scene over and over again, but from various vantage points. The film has been panned by most critics, but I found it fascinating—and Nikk, my friend and co-publisher, having just seen it, agrees. It definitely is not of the same quality as Kurosawa’s film, but there are so many cliff hanging moments as the film progresses through a scene for almost 16 minutes, stops at a crucial point, and then rewinds to show the scene from the perspective of another participant, you will forget for duration of the film everything outside the theater.
The story begins inside a mobile TV center Salamanca Spain with news producer Rex Brooks (Sigourney Weaver) calling the shots for the various camera operators and reporters covering the speech of US President Ashton, in town meeting with the heads of all the major Arab nations concerning international terrorism. She and the others are surprised to see Agent Thomas Barnes standing to one side of the President, scanning with his eyes the spectators and windows of the building opposite the speakers’ platform. He had taken a bullet for his chief less than a year earlier, and so had been on leave of duty. As the President is introduced and begins to speak a shot breaks forth, the bullet catching the leader in the chest, quickly followed by a second one. A short time late amidst the pandemonium two bombs go off one after the other, killing the TV reporter and many others near or on the speakers’ platform. The film rewinds to the moment earlier when Agent Barnes is in his hotel room getting ready to escort the President, and then moves forward to their arrival in the plaza. Barnes is nervous about a curtain fluttering in a window. He also notices a tourist in the crowd taking pictures with a camcorder. Shots, explosion, Barnes grabs a man holding a gun and running on the platform, but the man manages to break away, pandemonium. The agent sprints after the man, out of the plaza and onto the crowded city streets. Rewind again.
The videotaping US tourist is Howard Lewis (Forest Whitaker) who has left his family behind while roaming the city. He takes note of Agent Barnes gazing at the window, so he scans over with his camera to see what has caught the body guard’s attention. He talks with a mother and her little daughter, and notices in a nearby arcade a beautiful woman speaking quietly with a man. When the man leaves, she carries on a lively conversation with another man, whom we recognize from the previous segment as the man with the gun—all this and more (including a chase scene with Barnes in hot pursuit of the man with the gun) Howard records with his camera. Rewind again.
Pete Travis, directing from a script by Barry L. Levy, keeps the action so fast-paced that we have no time to think. From each of the five vantage points we see a few more pieces of the puzzle, some of them unexpected. The acting is as good as can be expected from a film that is intended to thrill and not instruct us. Dennis Quaid is his usual competent self, and William Hurt plays a President who is more thoughtful than macho—yes, the film rewinds so that we see matters from his vantage point. There is more that I would like to write about him, but that would be to spoil the surprises that lie in store for you. Although there are the usual scarcely credible scenes in which a man is hit by a car yet is so unhurt that he is able to get back up and keep running, the film is far more believable than the Mission Impossible films, especially the last of that lamentable series. This is a film that has just a little more substance than a Disneyland ride, but because it lasts far longer, delivers much more value for your money.