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DÉJÀ VU – Harry Gregson-Williams

November 22, 2006 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Clark Douglas

I’ve always wondered why so many critics and media personalities have tried to pin everything that is bad about Hollywood on Tony Scott. There are plenty of no-talent hacks working in the world of film today, but Scott simply isn’t one of them. He is a director who, without fail, turns in a reasonably intriguing popcorn film with slick production values and a high watchability factor. Has he inspired the so-called “MTV Movie” style of filmmaking, full of innumerable cuts and jerky camera work? Possibly, but when Scott himself is at the helm, it works. However, his recent films have simply been too much for some people, with all the insanely wild visual ideas he lathered over “Man on Fire” and “Domino”. Many people felt Scott needed to be reigned in a bit, to return to a slightly less hyper form. Who is the man to help guide Scott in this matter? Why, none other than Jerry Bruckheimer, of course! Laugh if you want, but it seems that Bruckheimer has helped Scott shape a reasonably-paced, smarter, sharper, more intelligent film than we’ve been seeing in recent years with “Déjà Vu”. Does it have the remarkable energy of “Domino” or the violent-religious-parable intrigue of “Man of Fire”? No, but it’s a better film than both of those, easily his strongest work since “Crimson Tide”.

The story is working with a very sci-fi premise, but it’s refreshingly placed in a modern day setting. When a New Orleans ferry carrying members of the U.S. Navy and their families explodes, an ATF agent (Denzel Washington) is called down to investigate. He’s quickly snapped up by a secret agency with a very cool n’ creepy surveillance system: they can see anything in the past exactly four days and six hours ago. Thanks to a wormhole found through an accident, they can only look in one place at one time, meaning they have only one fleeting chance to find a particular piece of evidence from a crime scene. Some critics have derided this premise, claiming it’s too much to swallow. I don’t think so… if you temporarily accept that there’s a portal into John Malkovich’s brain, that a DeLorean can be transformed into a time machine, or that dinosaurs could be revived for an amusement park, you can certainly buy this.

Two key elements make “Déjà Vu” a refreshing change from most time-bending movies. First, it’s much smarter than most, taking it’s promising premise and actually exploring all the unique possibilities it offers. Consider an ingenious car chase scene. I know, I know, every Bruckheimer movie has a car chase, but here’s the twist. Washington is wearing a special helmet that is linked via satellite to the surveillance monitor. He drives down a highway, using one eye to follow the route of a car that travelled down the same highway over four days ago. Meanwhile, his other eye must keep watching the real-time road he’s driving on, so he doesn’t get into a wreck. It’s grand fun, really. The second refreshing element is how tender and compassionate the film is. Washington’s great obsession throughout the film is trying to use the system to save the life of a woman who died at the hands of the man who blew up the ferry. The scenes built around this element of the story are considerably more genuine and touching than anyone has a right to expect from a Hollywood action thriller. Everything is directed with a sure and steady hand.

Good performances also sell the premise. Denzel Washington is perhaps better than any other actor working today at playing an honest, likable, intelligent guy. Though he’s certainly capable of more than that, it’s a role he’s perfected, and he plays it perfectly again here. We believe everything he’s doing simply because he puts such conviction into it. Meanwhile, Paula Patton offers a very credible performance here, allowing us to understand why Washington would be so obsessed with her. Good support comes from Jim Caviezel as the Bad Guy, along with Adam Goldberg and Val Kilmer as two key players in the investigation.

Musically, things have also been brought to a more normal level. This is the fifth film Harry Gregson-Williams has scored for Tony Scott, and the previous four scores range from pretty good (“Spy Game”) to absolutely intolerable (“Domino”). Here, he thankfully centres his score on some rather good thematic material, almost all of it containing an air of sadness. The romantic material is especially good, and the slightly noirish edge he gives some of the investigation scenes is wonderfully bittersweet. Gentle piano, keyboard, and guitar solos take the spotlight. It’s back to the usual thumps and drum loops for the action scenes, but they are more in the vein of “Spy Game” than “Enemy of the State” or “Man on Fire”. A few traditional source cues of New Orleans jazz (“When the Saints Go Marching In” and such) here and there help add some authentic flavour to the setting. There’s also a two-note motif that I think represents the general feeling of déjà vu, which is occasionally played backwards or warped in some way.

While you won’t find a masterpiece of Charlie Kaufman proportions here (I mean, it’s still a Jerry Bruckheimer/Tony Scott film), you’ll most assuredly get your money’s worth. If you’re looking for a good time at the movies, and for a film that will entertain you without insulting your intelligence, look no further. Recommended.

Rating: ***

Track Listing:

  • Algiers Ferry (3:06)
  • The Aftermath (4:30)
  • Dazzle Me (2:25)
  • Claire’s Apartment (4:14)
  • Better Have Some Ky (5:34)
  • Humvee Chase (9:03)
  • You Can Save Her (6:03)
  • Tell Me The Truth (3:08)
  • The Hideout (4:21)
  • Claire’s Rescue (4:19)
  • Coming Back To You (performed by Macy Gray) (3:21)
  • Humvee Chase (The Sonic Terrorists Remix) (3:39)

Running Time: 53 minutes 43 seconds

Hollywood Records digital download (2006)

Music composed and conducted by Harry Gregson-Williams. Orchestrations by Ladd McIntosh. Additional music by Toby Chu. Recorded and mixed by Malcolm Luker. Edited by Mark Jan Wlodarkiewicz. Score produced by Harry Gregson-Williams.

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