It’s hard to run from déjà vu.
It always straggles up on you,
And when you least expect to feel
This creeping sense of the surreal,
It seems you’ve done this all before,
Now back for some half-known encore.
You tell yourself it’s nothing, but
Deep down you have to wonder what
This inkling is: mere happenstance
Or time’s stab at a second chance?
It’s hard to run from déjà vu.
Didn’t I just say that too?
MPAA rating: PG-13
Now that I’m finally done with this semester’s finals, I can now get back into review mode. Last year, I did a review a day throughout December, and while that may not be feasible, I’m planning to post a little more often through the end of the year.
I guess all I need to do to discover a new favorite is to find a sci-fi movie that received middling reviews, and chances are that I’ll enjoy it far more than the critics did. I’ve noticed that trend with the likes of Surrogates, In Time, and Cloud Atlas, and now Déjà Vu joins the list. I’ve always been partial to time travel stories, and this one played to everything I love about the genre—intricate plotting, cool gadgetry, twists both expected and unexpected—making me wonder why the critics found it so lackluster.
Denzel Washington is good as always as ATF agent Douglas Carlin (pronounced car-LIN), who proves his experience and investigative talent after a crowded New Orleans ferry is destroyed by a terrorist’s bomb. Recruited by an FBI agent (Val Kilmer), Carlin is pulled into a secret government program with access to a temporal window into the past, allowing investigators a comprehensive look at the scene four days prior. However, time flows at the same speed through this window, so they have one go-round to figure out the bomber’s identity and his connection to a separate murder victim (Paula Patton). But let’s just say things are less than transparent, and there’s more to this technology than meets the eye, as Carlin discovers firsthand.
I wasn’t sure how much I’d like Déjà Vu based on Tony Scott’s directing style: bright, kinetic, and reminiscent of his later film Unstoppable, though with less zooming of the camera. Yet it kind of works in the film’s favor, particularly for the time window that allows the FBI to buzz around from any angle in the past. The fast pacing also adds to the thrill of the action scenes, like a just plain cool car chase in which Carlin pursues the killer (Jim Caviezel) in the past, trying to drive through past and present-day traffic. There’s plenty of technobabble from the FBI scientists, including that pencil-through-paper wormhole explanation also used in Event Horizon and Interstellar, but Carlin’s grounded approach keeps the device’s practical uses from getting too confusing.
Time travel movies are often judged on how well they avoid the pitfalls of the genre. Plot holes can often spoil such films for some people, from Kate and Leopold to The Lake House to About Time (though I still loved that one), while careful attention to the paradoxes involved can elevate a story to classic status. Déjà Vu falls somewhere in between. I believe it does follow the proper mechanics of time travel but simply doesn’t explain it as clearly as it could, mainly at the end. There’s a lot of careful setup, as when Carlin investigates crime scenes only for us to later see how everything got that way, and watching such attention to continuity always gives me an odd satisfaction as the full story is revealed. One idea mentioned is parallel timelines being created by significant enough changes to the past, a concept that reminded me a lot of the anime Steins;Gate, and this is the key to explaining what appears to be the most glaring plot hole of the climax. Now that I think about it, though, there’s one character who shouldn’t remember…. Oh, I don’t care; the rest of the movie is good enough that a little plot hole at the end can be easily forgiven.
Déjà Vu has all the right ingredients for a great time travel thriller, and while I can recognize what others would consider drawbacks (minor plot holes, slightly disappointing villain, a victim who can’t seem to stay fully clothed in her own apartment), the whole package was still splendidly entertaining. I like my mind teased every now and then, so finding this unexplored member of the time travel genre made my day.
Best line: (Carlin) “For all of my career, I’ve been trying to catch people after they do something horrible. For once in my life, I’d like to catch somebody before they do something horrible, all right? Can you understand that?”
© 2017 S.G. Liput
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