Running Time: 90 mins
Rated: Rated M (moderate action violence and coarse language)
Quite a breathless film, only 90 minutes of action during a presidential assassination at a peace conference in Spain. What makes it different is that it shows differing vantage points, different perspectives on the events, with the audience having the final advantage vantage point of having seen all the stories.
Filmed in Mexico using a double, a set of Salamanca's main square, the action confines itself to the square, the hotels, the streets surrounding the square. Nevertheless, it has a great deal of action and pace with the shooting of the president, bombs exploding and a speeding car chase in the inner city.
However, this is more than just an action film. It wants the audience to think about issues as well. Taking the realities of terrorism today as its basis, it shows the president (William Hurt) as a man of peace and some restraint compared with his hawkish advisers who want to bomb, immediately, a terrorist site in Morocco. It also shows a picture of terrorists who are calmly fanatical but who have no hesitation in causing widespread killing and destruction.
It also has a picture of how important the electronic media are today, especially television news, in providing instant information, edited by a producer according to station policy. Sigourney Weaver is the hard-working, hard-hitting producer. However, the world today is a video camera world with bystanders filming everything as well as a mobile phone world for photos, texting and calls - and for setting off explosive devices. Forest Whitaker is a tourist in the square whose video material is valuable for the Secret Service.
The film also highlights the role of the Secret Service (film buffs remembering the fine 1990s Clint Eastwood drama, In the Line of Fire), their training, alertness, risks, on the spot assessments as well as the pressure to work within acceptable bounds of pursuit and weapon fire. Denis Quaid is the agent who has taken a bullet for the president and stands in the (exaggerated) tradition of the American loner who pursues the enemy, pulls off the rescue, rights wrongs, and overcomes any trauma from the past to become the hero.
French, Spanish and Israeli actors portray the terrorists.
Needless to say, one can pick holes in the screenplay after the event (and some during) but Barry Levy's script shows a great deal of meticulous attention to detail to bring together what seem remarks in passing or accidents and incidents when first seen. With each of the vantage point stories, there is a literal rewind, but each of the stories advances the main plot (in all senses of plot) and each finishes with a cliffhanger. And there are a couple of twists along the way that most will not foresee.
There is an ironic note at the end about a lone gunmen which reminds viewers of conspiracy plots and the Kennedy assassination. The film was directed by Pete Travis whose film, Omagh, on the fatal bombings in Northern Ireland in 1998, is well worth seeing.
Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.