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Deja Vu Review

Deja Vu - Denzel Washington

RATING:
(4 STARS)

It takes Deja Vu a long time to get where it’s going, but once it’s driving down a New Orleans highway with one eye in the present and one eye three days in the past, you’re all the way in. This is by far Tony Scott’s highest-concept film ever, and while I’m sure it won’t connect with every viewer for the swings it gleefully takes, it’s a film I ate up when it came out in 2006, and I heartily enjoyed seconds, thirds, and so on.

The hook is all over the place: What if the space-time continuum folded over on itself and gave us a clear as day picture of what happened anywhere on Earth four days, six hours, three minutes, and 45 seconds ago exactly? You can’t go forward. You can’t go backward. You can only follow this timeline and make observations based on where you choose to place this proverbial “eye.”

This technology (for lack of a better word) is owned by a top-secret federal agency and put to use to help try to solve two crimes: the bombing of a ferry in New Orleans that killed more than 500 people and the murder of a young woman named Claire Kuchever (Paula Patton). Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington) is an ATF agent whose observation skills are noted FBI Special Agent Paul Pryzwarra (Val Kilmer), who recruits Doug to join his Big Brother-esque team and observe the events leading up to the bombing in real time. He agrees, but he wants to focus this eye on Claire. He thinks she holds the key to everything, and even though they’ve never met, he feels a strange connection to her. Maybe it has something to do with all the fingerprints he left at her apartment, despite never being there…

It’s a good 40 minutes into Deja Vu when we get properly introduced to this crazy device, which Pryzwarra and his team call “Snow White,” and it’s another 30-40 minutes before the film upshifts again into its final, pedal-to-the-medal gear. In that first hour or so, the film is full of small pleasures. Doug reminds everyone around him that his last name is pronounced “Car-LIN,” rather than “CAR-lin.” The team working with Snow White is packed with good-natured folks with a shared history and sense of humor. (They’re basically the inverse of Seth Green’s crew in Enemy of the State.) And watching Doug put this puzzle together without much information is pretty delightful thanks to Washington’s extremely compelling performance. He’s another everyman, but this one has the perfect mix of humanity and personality, and he makes this film feel like a spiritual, more sci-fi-tinged successor to Die Hard.

Paula Patton has the unenviable role of playing a woman we meet as a dead body and get to know as a tragic figure marching toward her demise. For what it’s worth, she mostly pulls it off, even if the film’s screenplay doesn’t ask too much from her in any given scene. Its structure is her challenge. Kilmer, meanwhile, is probably the film’s most generic character with his colleagues (including a very energetic Adam Goldberg) stealing most of his thunder.

While Scott’s particularly dynamic touches are fewer and further between here than they were previously in Domino (among other films), he still finds time for some incredible set pieces (the aforementioned past/present chase being a highlight among the entire filmography) and he knows how to coax a perfect performance out of his lead. At this point in his career and life, it’s what he had been doing for 20 years – since Top Gun – but rarely as effectively as he does here.

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