Judge David Johnson just watched an action movie where Denzel Wahington played a tough investigator. Talk about déjà vu.
Jerry Bruckheimer and Denzel Washington (Out of Time) make Doc Brown proud.
The latest Bruckheimer-Washington-Tony Scott action spectacle incorporates the trademark action you've come to expect with these things, plus a solid does of hard science fiction. The result? More after the break!
Facts of the Case
Washington is ATF federal agent Doug Carlin, a born and bred New Orleans native, who finds himself running point on an investigation into a brutal mass murder. A madman has murdered over 500 people when detonated a homemade bomb on a ferry, and Carlin is brought into collect evidence and track the unknown killer down. He is soon swept into a top-secret investigative branch of the FBI, headed by Agent Andrew Pryzwarra (Val Kilmer) and featuring a pile of genius physicists. Carlin is told that the government has been able to use satellite data to reconstruct images from the past.
But as he watches, amazed at the detail and realism the agents are able to secure from the transmissions, he realizes something doesn't add up and somebody better start spilling the beans, pronto. As it turns out, a fluke experiment led to the discovery of a "time window," allowing people in the present to look directly into the past, and even interact with it.
Through this technique, Carlin and company pinpoint a female victim of the killer (Paula Patton) and eventually the killer himself (Jim Caviezel). As the clock winds down to the day of the ferry explosion, Carlin will have to make some impossible choices, and ultimately attempt to change the future, from the past.
Sounds confusing? It is. Sounds stupid? It is not. Déjà vu is a very clever action film that plays it straight, and even though the driving plot point of the entire film is out-of-this-world-fantastic, director Tony Scott succeeds in crafting a believable, and, more importantly, an entertaining, thriller.
I'll admit, when I caught the trailers for this film a few months back, I was underwhelmed. I dig Denzel, but the a couple of things kept me home: 1) Tony Scott, as a director, is a mixed bag for me, sometimes delivering a films that I really like (Crimson Tide) or films that I kind of like in spite of his hyperactive filming style (Man on Fire); and, 2) the concept just struck me as plain goofy.
Well, as far as 1) is concerned, I was surprised and pleased that Scott reined in his kinetic, light-speed editing style and delivered an easy-to-follow action film that relies on concept and substance rather than eye-gouging style. The action in Déjà Vu, which I thought really suffered in Man of Fire because of the ADHD film techniques, is punchy, well-shot and a authentically exciting. There are three major action set-pieces in the film (not counting the terrifying ferry explosion, which was done for real and stands as an impressive and disturbingly realistic piece of pyrotechnics): two showdowns with the main bad guy, one at his HQ and one on the ferry (which I won't talk about for fear of blowing spoilers) and the highlight of the film, a thrilling car chase. Yeah, we've all seen car chases before, and in an interview on the disc, Scott admits that car chases have been "done to death," but the gimmick he uses in Déjà vu is unique. The Time Window crew draw a bead on the bad guy, but he goes out of range (don't ask), so Carlin hops into a high-tech government Humvee ripped straight from D.A.R.Y.L. and gives chase with a portable headset that sees in the past. What's cool is, Carlin sees the past in one eye and the present in the other, forcing him to navigate two worlds, while giving chase to his quarry. It's a great spin on a classic action movie gag and I can't do it credit with this meager explanation. Scott and the writers throw in a few monkey wrenches to make it even more interesting and the payoff is a sequence that had me pinned to the sofa; it's been a long time since I've said that about a Hollywood car chase.
The story is loopy, as can be expected with any time travel film, and though there is plenty of impenetrable scientist-speak, I don't think you'll get lost in the nuts and bolts of how these time geeks do what they do (though apparently it is based on real theories). I like how the filmmakers took it seriously and, like the aforementioned car chase, a mainstay of sci-fi movies (time travel) received an innovative, new approach that worked. And why do I know it worked? Because there are extended sections of the film that feature Denzel Washington and a bunch of scientists talking and watching a monitor and it still managed to be engaging. Granted these bits weren't locomotives of pacing, but crucial plotlines emerged. And there was a shower scene.
The acting was okay. Denzel does his thing, which you've seen in lots of other Denzel action-movies. I like the guy, but I have to say his characters in these thriller movies are all pretty much the same. The writers tried to give him a few personality quirks in the beginning (a sense of humor, for example), but those dried up as soon as the plot got rolling. Kilmer is fine as well as his scientist pals (most notably Adam Goldberg as the lead), but the stand-outs are Caviezel as the suitably psychopathic terrorist mastermind, who's (you guessed it!) a right-wing white dude, and the lovely Paula Patton as Carlin's love interest and a strong, proactive female character.
Consider this a recommendation then for Déjà Vu. Don't let the on-the-surface iffiness of the plot deter you from what is a quick-moving and well-executed scifi-action mélange. Oh and one more thing, the film is rated PG-13, but it's a "hard" PG-13; the ferry explosion is very intense, there's a violent shootout at the end where people are obviously shot up and Paula Patton has brief, nude shower scene (it's not much, but there was definitely a nipple sighting).
The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is solid, though the picture struck me as slightly washed out at some points (though this may have been a stylistic decision). The 5.1 surround work is active and loud and is pushed satisfactorily throughout the film, most notably in the ferry explosion and the car chase. The special features have been arranged in a unique way: by turning on a "The Surveillance Window," and watching the film, behind-the-scenes featurettes will pop up during the runtime. These include documentaries on the special effects, characters, production, the setting, and the stunts. It's a novel way to introduce the extras, and the in-between time is taken up with audio commentaries from Scott, Bruckheimer and writer Bill Marsilii. If you're not into the commentary tracks—which are quite good—you'll have to do a lot of fast-forwarding to get to the featurettes. A batch of deleted and extended scenes round out the bonus materials.
Déjà Vu is worth checking out. Déjà Vu is worth checking out.
Not guilty. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Touchstone Pictures
• "The Surveillance Window" Featurette Gallery
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