Thursday, 7 December 2006

Deja Vu (2006)

Denzel Washington has been relegated to lending credibility to trashy sci-fi and action flicks

Deja Vu is a word used to describe the feeling you get when you start watching this movie. Perhaps it’s the whole Tony Scott and Jerry Bruckheimer style of cutting up their opening scene in a thousand cuts, camera panning disjointedly at faces of happy people smiling and dancing on a ferry boat, in eerie slow motion as a band plays on. A girl on the ferry drops her doll into the river. Since it’s Scott and Bruckheimer, you expect the "dramatic and fatalistic" scene to build up into an explosion. KABOOM! Denzel Washington is the port security officer who takes it upon himself to solve the mystery of who planned and carried out the terrorist act, and for dessert, solve the mystery of a woman who may have been murdered, and then dumped into Mississippi to look like a victim of the explosion.

Instead of thinking how clumsy, trite and predictable Bruckheimer and Scott have become, perhaps it’s far better to admit that Deja Vu is the most tasteful and subdued film about 9/11 that Hollywood has churned out to date. It’s definitely much less objectionable than Michael Moore’s shrill and conspiracy-laden Fahrenheit 9/11, less shamelessly exploitative and delusional than United 93, and less sentimental and saccharine than World Trade Centre. As a bonus feature, Deja Vu not only references (unsubtly, of course, but this is the Bruckheimer and Scott team) the terrorism of 9/11, but also throw in Katrina and Timothy McVeigh’s Oklahoma bombing as well.

As a movie, Deja Vu plays to everyone’s favourite post-9/11 fantasy, disguised as a tribute to New Orleans. Not only is Denzel Washington a regular Poirot, who manages to solve the more than half of the mystery of the bombing himself, before a pudgy Val Kilmer introduces the detective to Snow White and the 7 spy satellites that allow users to spy on virtually anyone they desire, 6 days into the past. This sounds like it must’ve come from a wet dream of the Patriot Act, but is probably inspired by a similar machine in Isaac Asimov’s short story, The Dead Past. Deja Vu, being a creature of Bruckheimer and Scott, neatly sidesteps the troubling issue of voyeurism and the ethical eschatology of the advent of the surveillance society, and transforms this sci-fi device into a time-travelling fantasy when Washington, bored of solving the bombing and murder case by just watching huge plasma monitors in a secret research facility, exclaims “For once, I would like to stop crimes before they happen!”

And actually, Deja Vu gets really, really good to watch after that, although Denzel Washington is no Marty McFly.

There are 2 reasons why you might want to watch this movie. Mind you, it’s really difficult to make an action thriller when you have 5 fat (Val Kilmer!) or ageing (Denzel Washington’s looking distinguished nowadays) guys stuck in a room with an ubergeek (Adam Goldberg, typecast for life) staring at 15 computer screens, performing a stakeout on a murder victim-to-be – so, I was impressed with the director’s efforts to make the ops room scenes visually engaging, by shooting his stakeout scenes like an interactive PC programme, with the apparent ability to zoom in and out, swerve to alternate angles, at all once. It’s so visually engaging that you might forget these are 5 guys stuck in a room, spying on the daily routine of a woman who is already dead. Also, Deja Vu has just about the most creative car chase in a highway scene ever. Separated by 6 days and 6 hours, and using the nearly omniscient spycam device, Washington chases a suspect in a highway. Only it’s not the same highway. But still the same highway – oh, you know what I mean. The common point about these two great scenes is that even though Bruckheimer and Scott make very trashy, unbelieveable films, these films are very watchable and qualify as good visual experiences.

This also means that whatever consistency or cerebral gymnastics you expect of a movie about time travel will not come to pass. Most writers of time travel flicks try to adhere to one of the two consistent possibilities: the Twelve Monkeys scenario (you can never change the past, no matter what you do, you’ve already done it) or the Back to the Future scenario (you can always change anything!). My grouse is the script for Deja Vu doesn’t really know which scenario it wants to follow, and the ending is inconsistent from what the rest of the film builds up to.

First published at incinemas on 7 December 2006

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