starring Denzel Washington, Val Kilmer, Paula Patton, Jim Caviezel
screenplay by Bill Marsilii & Terry Rossio
directed by Tony Scott
by Walter Chaw Who woulda thunk that crap-meister Tony Scott could be so in tune with the spirit of the times? Scott follows up Man on Fire--a vile piece of revenge-on-foreign-soil wish-fulfillment schlock--and Domino (another slice of the vigilante kind) with Déjà Vu, a time-travel fantasy complete with a horrifying act of domestic terrorism that noble ATF agent Carlin (Denzel Washington) is offered the chance, through the providence of limited time travel, to prevent. It's one of those questions, right? Would you smother infant Hitler in his cradle to prevent the tears that will follow--and, if you did, would it change the course of history or just substitute that Adolf for another? Alas, Scott ultimately degrades this fun cocktail party conundrum into an action-movie finale involving heartbreakingly beautiful love interest Claire (Paula Patton), clean-Marine grassroots sicko Carroll (Jim Caviezel, doing High Crimes all over again), and a ferryboat full of people crossing over from Katrina-ravaged New Orleans. Working in the picture's favour is that it's thick with national calamity, making one wonder if Scott would even get a movie made anymore were he not so quick to jab a needle into the collective jugular. The pall of our recent history hangs over the proceedings like a borrowed mourning veil, but Scott muse Washington is so good--and the film's premise so loopy--that en route to touching the steadily more tiresome post-9/11 bases of illegal/omniscient surveillance and sour regret, Déjà Vu actually breathes a little. It's the best Tony Scott film since the underestimated, unofficial The Conversation sequel Enemy of the State, which ran over on the same technophobic ground. Call it another science-fiction romance to join this season's already-bursting slate of Children of Men, Stranger Than Fiction, and The Fountain.
What's most unusual is that Déjà Vu is self-consciously a picture with a quasi-religious, moral centre in taking pains to address possible objections to its premise. When the machine causes a power surge, for instance, it shows doctors in the middle of a surgery calmly waiting for their backup generators to kick in--and after hero Carlin causes a ghastly car crash on the interstate, we have a moment where he calls the paramedics on behalf of his victims. It's the antidote to Tony Scott movies, in other words--the anti-Bruce Almighty, in which an act of romantic whimsy (much like Carlin's dedication to saving his Laura-like lady-fair) causes without comment or immediate consequence to the protagonists a devastating tsunami half a world away. Whatever you think of the picture, when it talks about destiny and a benevolent god's intervention in the lives of men, it avoids hypocrisy by controlling and acknowledging, in its own omnisciently-manipulated terrarium, the cost of its violence. At its heart, though, it's still just a macho fantasy of redemption and re-fighting, Rambo-like, battles we've already lost while rekindling romances with high school sweethearts who've long moved on. Its last reel, especially, jettisons smarts with extreme prejudice in favour of more chases, explosions, damsels in distress, and gruesome executions of deserving targets. Better than it should be, Déjà Vu is finally swallowed by its creator's desire to slake the bloodlust of an audience already beaten by the images on the daily news. How much better a film this would be in less pandering hands. Originally published: November 22, 2006.