Déjà Vu Review
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Director Tony Scott has never been one to play it safe, sometimes to his own detriment, but his risk-taking opening to Déjà Vu seems pretty bold, even for him. Set in a post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, the film begins with the terrorist bombing of the Canal Street ferry transporting families and Naval officers to a Fat Tuesday celebration. Before the bomb goes off, Scott lingers on shots of men in uniform happy to be on release and bored children waiting to get to their destination. Amid the chaos of the explosion, the director shows burning sailors leaping from the boat. None of this is new, but considering the setting and who’s involved, the matter-of-fact depiction of members of a branch of the armed services being killed is kind of shocking in a mainstream action movie.

ATF agent Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington) is assigned to the case. During his investigation, he’s tipped off to the murder of Claire Kuchever (Paula Patton), whose body washed ashore around the time of the explosion. It’s assumed she was one of the more than five hundred passengers on the ferry, but the timing doesn’t work out. Someone wants investigators to believe she was onboard, so if he can find Claire’s murderer, Doug can find whoever is responsible for blowing up the ferry. Stranger yet, Claire tried to contact Doug before her death.

At first glance, Déjà Vu appears to be a conventional Denzel Washington action movie, but there are some major surprises. Agent Andrew Pryzwarra (Val Kilmer) asks Doug to join his new, top-secret unit working on the case. This team possesses tools that take the film into the realm of science fiction—a direction not hinted at in the promotions for the film. It’s essentially impossible to review Déjà Vu without spoiling this central element, a twist I thoroughly enjoyed, so those who don’t want it ruined should continue reading at their own peril.

Pryzwarra’s team of braniacs has harnessed the ability to see whatever happened four days ago. It’s far too complicated to explain, but suffice it to say that as long as they know where to look, they can see whatever was happening as it occurred in the past. It’s not perfect. There are no second chances or rewind options, and the areas covered are limited by satellite placement.

The fantasy technology deepens Déjà Vu’s resonance and makes the New Orleans setting all the more appropriate and poignant. Would being able to see into the past and send messages to people there allow us to avoid catastrophes, or would everything play out the same way because we’ve already done those things that brought us to that point? It’s the main conundrum in time travel movies, but this fascinating riddle gives Déjà Vu an unexpected thoughtfulness.

Scott’s manic style is well matched with the technology’s constant scanning. The technique reaches its apotheosis in a thrilling scene, in which Doug gets in a car chase with a suspect whose actions were four days earlier.

As usual, Washington is charismatic and projects an honorable core akin to Jimmy Stewart. It tends to be forgotten that the venerable Stewart also played his share of oddball roles, like in his darker work with Alfred Hitchcock. With Déjà Vu and this year’s Inside Man, it’s fun to watch Washington cut loose a little within his upstanding characters.

An unforeseen mix of action, sci-fi, and even a hint of romance, Déjà Vu’s pleasures are in delivering what we don’t see coming.

DVD Review (By Kristin Dreyer Kramer):
The special features on this DVD may give you that old déjà vu feeling all over again—because you’ve seen them before, on other DVDs. You won’t find anything particularly new here. Features include both deleted and extended scenes (though I’m still not exactly sure what the difference between the two might be), as well as a commentary/behind-the-scenes feature. Called “The Surveillance Window,” this feature is generally a standard commentary, with the filmmakers discussing their thoughts on the movie, the stars, and the process, over top of the film’s dialogue. But, from time to time, it’ll pause the film and go into a special behind-the-scenes look at something related to the filmmakers’ discussion. There’s some interesting stuff here, but it requires more time than most casual viewers will be willing to give it. So pick up the DVD for the movie—not for the features.

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