I have never had a seizure, but every time I watch a Tony Scott film I brace myself for the experience.
Luckily, in Deja Vu, we are served something a little less unsettling than 2005’s whacked-out train wreck Domino. In that film, Scott’s editors must have ingested about as much crystal meth as the film’s characters in order to structure the staccato cutting that produced a film that was perhaps too fast to actually watch.
Sadly, Scott and company have been guilty time and time again of these indulgent stylizations. I suspect the forced over-editing, film stock manipulations and abuse of the helicopter whip pan comes from Scott’s lingering insecurity that he is, indeed, nothing more than a journeyman after all these years. Thus, Deja Vu is tainted with the same trademarks that Scott seems to hope his ‘oeuvre’ suggests.
All of this nonsensical fluff is unfortunate because Deja Vu has potential. Although the script is a bit silly, there are some engaging, and even artfully written, moments. For example, much of the dialogue and action that takes place within the monitoring room that allows the FBI to view the past through a series of LCD panels is engaging and witty. Adam Goldberg nearly steals the show.
Strong scripts are all about oddities that create narrative disruptions in the audiences’ expectations. Deja Vu has its few oddities – for some reason the physical phenomenon that folds the space/time continuum connects with the events that take place four days and six hours in the past only. Also, Denzel Washington’s character, Doug Carlin, becomes increasingly hypnotized by the young woman Claire (played by Paula Patton) that is the lynch pin in the ferry explosion at the center of the plot. It is even suggested they are, in some sense, a mirror of each other.
This play on the doppelganger could have been mined for far more worth than the tired love saga that instead attempts to sweeten Deja Vu by the final scene. There is also much tragic potential in watching Claire go about her daily activities in the past, with the knowledge that she will die within a few days.
The film within the film that could have unfolded here is circumvented in favour of an all too predictable turn of events that has Doug enter into the past in order to alter fate. Apparently, Scott and his screenwriters are unaware that both tragedy and the human condition are firmly locked into the finiteness and linear unfolding nature of existence.
But what is most concerning about Deja Vu is that there is a somewhat unsettling religious message at the core of the film. Set in post-Katrina New Orleans, the film is very much conscious of itself as a product of a new, victimized America in crisis at the center of a Holy War. And with that the religious metaphors rain from the heavens.
Denzel, like a guardian angel sent to right a wrong, takes fate into his own hands, goes back in time and saves the day from a stock bad guy, played by Jim Caviezel. Instead of reprising his role as the martyr from The Passion of Christ, Caviezel is cast here as a clich