DEJA VU (2006)

August 4, 2007

Deja vu review

Deja vu

Matt: Three stars
Tracy:Three and a half Stars

Length: 128min


If you thought it was just a trick of the mind, prepare yourself for the truth.

Review by Matt:

Ahh, the old messing-with-timelines-by-travelling-through-time film. Nothing beats it. Unless you can’t get the timelines to make sense. Then, if you’re like me, instead of enjoying the sci-fi carnival, you stare off to the side thinking about how it could all possibly work. Déjà vu’s clumsy time-travel plot only makes sense if the audience dreams up some creative sub-plots to plug the holes. If you’re going to be satisfied by this film then, I think you’ll have to put the swiss-cheese plot to the side and just sink guiltily into the heady nonsense of a Hollywood thriller for two hours. Fortunately, that’s still a pretty enjoyable experience.

Messy timelines aside, the story is fairly straightforward. Denzel Washington trots out his familiar tenacious cop persona to portray Doug Carlin, a detective investigating a terrible terrorist attack on a New Orleans ferry. Some sharp detecting brings Carlin to the attention of a special FBI team (headed by Val Kilmer), who recruit him to work on the case using the FBI’s new, mind-blowing “God’s eye” technology. The technology somehow harnesses the power of worm-holes to give the detectives the power to look directly into the past with privacy-destroying omniscience. At Carlin’s word the detectives use “God’s eye” primarily to intrude into the past life of a beautiful female victim (Paula Patton), who Carlin had seen at the morgue and – weirdly – fallen in love with. It seems that in Hollywood, it’s always love-at-first-sight, even when one of the lovers is staring with dead eyes from the autopsy table.

The time-bending investigations result in some intense dimension-spanning action. These sequences fully exploit the best parts of the classical Hollywood style. It simplifies potentially complex sequences so that the excitement is maximised. I did feel some amusement at the poor romance plot, and by the film’s indulgences – brought into sharper focus by having recently watched Hot Fuzz parody this kind of excess. The opening ferry-bomb sequence, for example, is constructed with slow-motion visuals and portentous musical cues (and I’m sure I heard the same ominous strings in the recent James Bond film) which manipulate our tensions until the surprising BOOM of the ferry.

But there’s no doubting this style generally works for this film. And there’s also some joy in seeing the disaster in the opening scene. The time-travel plot allows us to revisit the same scene later. This time we’re fully aware of the imminent bomb, so we’re trapped in the fretful “audience knows there’s a bomb” sequence that Hitchcock described as the epitome of suspense. It is quite exciting. As with Breach, Déjà vu passed the “suspenseful enough to make Tracy pace and moan at the edge of the room” test.

It’s when Tracy is at the edge of the room that Déjà vu is at its best. When it’s at its worst, I think, are the moments it flirts too hard with scientific or philosophical concepts. It’s not sharp enough to inject anything insightful into these themes. Keep control of the corners of your mouth when the line arrives “But what if there is more than physics?” and it is punctuated by a soft dramatic sting. The wishy-washy attempt at philosophising also reveals a lurking little goblin: although it embraces hard physics, the film still messily implies that an almighty God decides how the technology works or doesn’t. It’s a bit frustrating; like US politicians, it seems that films want mass appeal so they don’t want to risk seeming too aetheistic. I’d be more forgiving if Déjà vu‘s omniscient being had at least popped in for a moment and explained how the film’s confusing timelines make sense.

So, like its time travel physics, the film has some weaknesses. But there’s not much to hate. Just try to hurdle the slight obstacles, or let the fast-paced action plough through them. Then you’re free to enjoy what is a fairly spiffy sci-fi action flick.


One comment

  1. I cannot believe you gave more than 2 stars for this crap. There is no real good story told. You were sucked in by the visual effects and the complexities. Didn’t someone say that a good story told is simply told?

    This is in the same vein as “Pursuit of Happyness” (starring Will Smith) where there is no real good story, and little logic and just pure arrogance.

    Where is the grace?

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