Friday, January 19, 2007

Deja Vu

Deja Vu opened in late November and completely slipped my notice - I had written Tony Scott off after a particuarly repulsed late night viewing of "Man On Fire" a few years ago. I considered him to be a flashy sadist whose fast-cutting disrupted any sense of tension his action set-pieces set out to build. But then I read, with much curiosity, Mark Peranson and Cristoph Huber's impassioned polemic at CinemaScope, "World Out of Order: Tony Scott's Vertigo", which tries to revive Scott's critical reputation and position him as an auteur. The piece is a great piece of provocation, as they claim the "Great" Scott's (to differ him from his pretentious brother Ridley, as the two say) films to be reflections on filmmaking and the proliferation of images in the modern world - with Nicole Kidman's line in Days of Thunder, "Control is an illusion", to be a statement of purpose. They consider "Deja Vu" to be his masterpiece. To further pique my curiosity, they're rather dismissive of Man On Fire, which they admit is difficult to watch. So much to my delight, Deja Vu is an efficient and at times provocative thriller, with shades of Hitchcockian obsession and guilt. It also contains one of the most ingenious action sequences I've seen in American cinema over the past couple years.

Part of my enjoyment stems from the relative restraint Scott shows in his stylistic choices. The film is still filled with crane shots and slow-motion, but he eliminates his recent penchant for using a variety of film stocks, and the cutting time seems to have slowed down a bit from the manic pace of Man On Fire.

Denzel Washington, quickly becoming a TS axiom, plays a gregarious but hyper-professional ATF agent who's investigating a terrorist bombing of a cruise ship that was carrying Navy kids to party on Fat Tuesday (the film takes place in post-Katrina New Orleans, a fact which is not belabored or exploited). He's soon spotted by FBI agent Val Kilmer (appealingly unkempt and paunchy) and tapped to assist a special investigative unit on the case. It's quite special - as they're using a machine that can see into the past - four days into the past, to be exact. The investigation points to a woman (Paula Patton) who is connected to the main suspect. So they use the machine to watch her movements from four days previous, and Denzel soons becomes obsessed with her, idealizing her through this ultimate voyeuristic device.

Washington's actions blur the line between heroic and maniacal, as he directs the investigative unit's machine to focus exclusively on Paula, setting up compositions for her day-to-day life. Filmmaking as voyeurism, and added with a special tang of 24 hour surveillance. So enamored with his celluloid muse, he tries to rend her out of the past and remake her in the flesh. An alternately moving and disturbing paen to the director-actress relationship.

I hear Enemy of the State and Domino are rather fun as well. I can't wait.


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