Tony Scott’s Deja Vu begins as an exciting and effective thriller, giving the audience the sense they are in for a ride they haven’t really experienced before. But alas, it is not entirely to be. Once the film’s third act rears its head, you experience your own case of Deja Vu because its climax is seeing-it-from-ten-miles away predictable and heavily influenced by past space and time benders like the Back to the Future movies, Minority Report or that gem, Frequency. I normally would be more forgiving because for a long time, Deja Vu is really good. The first hour is really interesting and Denzel is his usual great self. But the third act is important in a movie like this and the film promises more than it can deliver.
Now tattoo me a Tony Scott fan. I’ve always felt he’s underrated artist because he practically started a movement on his own. He helped give birth to that MTV-style directing some people wouldn’t find so distasteful if there weren’t so many bad carbon-copies (Simon West and Michael Bay – damn you malcontents!). As much as I love to apple-polish the man, I must say I am not a fan of his increasingly frenzied directing style which began with Enemy of the State. I have no problem with chaos on the screen (I will sing praises of Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream or Oliver Stone’s stuff in the ’90s), as long as it is done with some artistry and isn’t intent on manipulating suspense or excitement. Scott’s work in State, Spy Game (which I admit I still ended up liking a lot), and Domino (where he overwhelmed Richard Kelly’s script) left a bad taste in my mouth. On the other hand, I loved what he did in the City of God-influenced Man on Fire where he interpolated text and visuals for a darkly atmospheric effect. Where in Man on Fire these techniques evoked mood and power, his flash in Domino was nothing more than a group of gimmicky narrative devices. So yes, I’m happy to report that this is his most static-looking film in a long while (I mean that as a compliment) and it pays dividends considering how disoriented the film can be when you first experience the “vu-cam” (my word, not the film’s).
And what about the rest of the movie? Well I don’t want to say too much, but the film opens on a ferry-boat jam-packed with Navy sailors and families. The ship ends up exploding in horrifying fashion (Scott builds the tension nicely) resulting in scores of casualties. Denzel Washington plays Doug Carlin, ATF agent investigating whether or not the ferry explosion was an act of terrorism or a disastrous malfunction. Carlin is more than up to the task; he was an Oklahoma City investigator. Val Kilmer plays an FBI agent who is impressed by Carlin’s prowess and ends up introducing him to a special Top Secret unit within the FBI that has the technological capability to view events in the past, though with some interesting limits. I will leave it there because this is where the film works best. Denzel makes it all fun for the audience, sharing his awe, raising suspicions and asking the same questions you’ll be asking from your theatre seat. This is a pretty smart film and at this point I was ready to fall in love with it, even more so when I watched what has to be one of the most original car chases ever to grace the screen.
I don’t think I’m spoiling anything when I tell you Jim Caviezel is the film’s baddie. He’s decent in the role of a real wacko but I was disappointed with his character overall. It’s funny. Caviezel kind of had the opposite role in Frequency where he played a cop trying to solve a murder in the past. In that film, the bad guy is clearly unaware of time being toyed with at his expense. In this film, it seemed to me the movie hinted there was more to come, that Caviezel’s character had a little more up his sleeve than you would think, but no, the film basically becomes a race against time and events.
As in every Tony Scott film, the rest of the cast is great, even those with the smallest of roles (is there a director who has a sharper command of supporting performances than him?). The beautiful Paula Patton is easy to fall in love with (there’s an almost Vertigo-ish relationship that develops between Denzel and her) and Adam Goldberg delivers some witty lines as a scientist.
You can’t help but raise your expectations half-way through Deja Vu which means you can’t help but be a little disappointed when it’s over. For a while this is a clever thriller and it has a nice little ending. You just wish it was clever enough to out-smart you. You just wish it was lever enough to out-smart you. Sorry, I couldn’t resist. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.