It's Day Three of Free Action movie week, and now we're starting to get into the more popular choices. I'd never heard of this film before I picked it up at that pub night, but I got several votes from people saying they wanted me to see it. I was informed that it was an "underrated classic" which certainly caught my attention. It was a Tony Scott film so I knew I'd be in for some exciting action and explosions, always good for an action film. I would have to agree with those comments. Deja Vu is a very interesting movie filled with lots of unexpected twists and turns that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Also fun fact: Deja Vu is the first movie I've reviewed on this blog to feature a black protagonist.
In New Orleans, a mysterious domestic terrorist has just blown up a ferry, leaving hundreds of people dead, wounded, or traumatized. Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington), a representative of ATF, is dispatched to investigate, finding very clear evidence that the bomb was deliberately placed, but virtually nothing about the person who set it up. Adding to the mystery is the body of a woman, Claire Kuchever (Paula Patton), that washes up on the shore nearby and seems to be connected even though she died before the bombing happened.
Failing to identify any leads, Carlin is invited to assist in a top-secret program which has developed the technology to create a literal window into the past. Being able to look precisely four days before the present, the race is on to identify the bomber and figure out how he planted the explosives on the ferry. Accomplishing this end involves following the final days of Claire's life, but the question is raised: can the past be changed? Is it possible to avert the ferry's destruction entirely? It's a bit of a Source Code-type situation, with plenty of paradoxes and disputes over the mechanics of time travel.
The whole idea behind this film is actually pretty cool. It's a bit like a reverse precrime (an idea explored in Philip K. Dick's story Minority Report and the Spielberg film adaptation), with the characters being able to see into the past. There is certainly an emotional strain to be found with this kind of technology, as the characters are all conflicted over how to respond to what they are seeing: being able to see into the past but unsure if you can do anything to change it. This whole setup also leads to some strange moments, such as the "car chase" where Carlin has to drive a Humvee through a busy street trying to record the movements of the bomber's car four days ago (with chaos inevitably ensuing.
The acting is really good. Denzel really gets into character here. At first I was a bit concerned about the treatment of Paula Patton, being worried that she wouldn't get to do a whole lot. Fortunately she gets her moments of action eventually, though it takes some time. The controllers who work with Denzel also offer a nice bit of comic relief. The story is a bit slow at first, but even before the spacetime-bending technology is introduced there is enough action to keep it moving forward. If I were to make any particular complaints, I'd argue that it does get confusing at certain points. There are moments when it took me a few minutes to figure out precisely what was happening.
I liked Deja Vu. It's certainly an exciting movie with lots of action, which is precisely what I was looking for. It's got some neat ideas and runs with them in some interesting directions, presenting a series of twists and turns I'll admit I never saw coming. It all builds up to a climax that forces you to think about the ethical situation faced by the protagonist, building on the questions raised throughout. It's certainly one worth checking out if you get the chance.