Thursday, February 07, 2008

Deja Vu

Deja Vu is a great title for this murder mystery, although it's been used many times before. This is a movie with a sci fi bent, a film that asks you to suspend disbelief a lot more than the normal movie. The advertisements, and, indeed, the film itself, promote supposed scientific probablities for this kink in the film, but let's not kid ourselves: it's sci fi.

An ATF agent, Doug Carlin, played by Denzel Washington, is assigned to investigate a terrorist act in New Orleans. He is invited by the FBI to join their surveillance team and helps them focus their attentions on a woman who was washed up on the Algiers shore before the attack began. Technology, or, rather, a scientific accident allows the team to look into the past four days prior, and allows them to see how the young woman is involved in the tragedy.

While suspending disbelief is always fun, the trick works better if it refers to a minor moment in the drama. You go back in time, for instance, and you absorb that and your mind works with it. But Deja Vu asks us several times to do this, and thus asks too much. As soon as you get used to the four-hour lookback, it asks you to take another leap in faith, and then another. And the holes these leaps create cannot be filled. There are some really obvious gaps in reality. One of them involves a gun that appears in Carlin's hands even though he just came out of the ER unit in a hospital -- as a patient. But there are many more.

I get the feeling from watching the movie and being jarred by its transitions that the film had many more scenes that weren't included, that the director opted instead to show us an exciting yet interminable car chase. We know that director Tony Scott is famous for his action films, and we realize that having your surveillance team just watch its targets gets to be pretty boring. But more time spent on developing the killer's backstory, as one instance, would have been fruitful.

It's still an exciting film. The visual effects offer something we've never seen before, and are stunning. The ending is telegraphed, but rightly so: in a good mystery, we should be able to put the facts together and enjoy the denouement. And it's a wonder that the film holds together at all, with all of its writing and editing problems, and that's due to Denzel Washington, who is a real power here.

Thumb's up, minimally.


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