Déjà Vu Movie Review
Denzel Washington witnesses over 500 people die in a single moment, falls in love with a woman who is already dead, and then performs surveillance on her for several days in hopes of catching the terrorist responsible for her death in Deja Vu, the latest thriller from director Tony Scott.
Washington stars as ATF agent Doug Carlin, who is brought in to investigate the horrific bombing of a New Orleans ferry carrying nearly 600 people. With the evidence at the bottom of a murky river, the clues are remote - until he finds the body of a woman named Claire Kuchever (Paula Patton) down river with burns over 30 percent of her body. The only catch - she was found several minutes before the ferry exploded. Things only get weirder from there. Carlin is recruited by an FBI agent (Val Kilmer) into a unique investigative unit that has what essentially is a time travel machine - they can see exactly four days and 6 hours into the past. They can't stop the event from happening, but they can see how it happens - if they know where to look.
Deja Vu is much like the television show "7 Days", only well-directed, well-acted and well-done. Scott, who has directed Washington twice before in Man on Fire and Crimson Tide, is the perfect choice for a film such as this. Over the last several years, he has moved away from conventional filmmaking to a more ambitious and frenetic style where old rules of directing are thrown right out the window. He is the perfect compliment for a time travel movie with plenty of explosions and gunfights. Thankfully, after his momentous flop Domino, perhaps he realized that he needed to settle down just a bit and go with a slightly more conventional approach, and the result is Deja Vu, probably his best movie since 1995's Crimson Tide. This is the first Scott movie I've seen in quite a while where his direction wasn't at all obtrusive, and the result is an exciting and engaging thriller with everything from drama to romance to action.
Deja Vu is engaging from beginning to end, and for a while is pretty unpredictable. If you've seen the movie trailer than you know the film contains time travel, but even from the start it is hard to figure out how everything is going to fit together. The time travel device that screenwriters Bill Marsilii and Terry Rossio have conceived is quite unique, in that it theoretically cannot send someone back in time but instead can simply view the past in real-time. There is no fast-forward or rewind; they can simply watch the past as if it is real-time surveillance. This makes Deja Vu all the better, as the film is essentially a cop thriller where the cops are trying to catch the culprit after the fact, just like any other crime. They aren't trying to save the day; they are just trying to catch a terrorist.
Ultimately, Deja Vu works in that the suspense is grounded in reality whereas the actual conventions are sci-fi. As with all time travel films, don't think too hard about how it works and just accept that it does - and that helps the story progress. Of course, as with all time travel movies, the filmmakers feel the need to explain their device, and one of the most frustrating parts of the movie is its drawn out scene where the scientists explain to a frustrated Denzel how everything works. A few lines of dialogue would have worked much better than their detailed examination of the space-time continuum.
The only other issue with Deja Vu does not lie in the sensibility of the time travel device but in the sensibility of the main character. For most of the movie Denzel's character is smart and quick-thinking, and doesn't waste a second. But, for the sake of action, his character falls into the "I have to do this myself" mode at the end instead of calling on all his ATF and FBI buddies to help him. The final act, while still good, makes you wonder if the filmmakers could have thought of an even smarter sequence of events where Denzel used all of the resources at his disposal. Minor details, but still.
Oh, and one other pet peeve - the trailer actually shows the final scene of the movie, so about halfway through the film you know exactly how everything is going to play out. It doesn't make things any less exciting, but couldn't the marketing team have been a little more conservative in their approach?
Deja Vu is a fun, relatively smart action movie that offers up everything you need for a great thriller. Washington is at the top of his game, and Scott's direction is thankfully a little more normal than usual. If you like action and you like cop thrillers, then this is a must-see.
Déjà Vu explodes onto DVD this April with a couple of bonus features and, of course, the Tony Scott film starring Denzel Washington. Déjà Vu got a lot of critical smackdown when it was released in theaters in November, but I'm a fan of the film - other than dealing with time travel, which is almost always asking for plot holes and implausibilities that the professional critics love to look for, the movie is exciting and violent (don't let the PG-13 rating fool you), and has an interesting premise. Those who didn't catch it in theaters should peruse over to the video store or your Netflix queue and put Déjà Vu toward the top.
As far as DVDs go, Déjà Vu isn't overly exciting. It does feature several deleted and extended scenes with optional director commentary. These scenes are pretty good, but seen on their own there isn't too much of interest. The most notable extended scene is that of the torture scene where Jesus... er, Jim Caviezel... covers Paula Patton in gasoline, hits her, etc. Interestingly, despite everything else in the movie, Scott had to remove some of the long shots of the gasoline being poured over Pattons' body to keep a PG-13 movie.
Other special features are several behind-the-scenes moments planted throughout the film and accessible via "The Surveillance Window." It's a neat way to tie in the movie's concept, but I'm not a big fan of embedded material while watching the movie. Maybe this is some people's cup of tea, but if I'm watching the movie, I want to watch the freaking movie - not sidetrack into bonus features along the way.
Overall, Déjà Vu is certainly a quality rental, but fans of the movie may be a bit disappointed with these features. I could see a "Special Edition" coming out at some point.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.