It's Fat Tuesday in New Orleans when late in the morning the Canal Street Ferry explodes in a fiery blast that claims 500-plus lives. There is little doubt the attack was the work of a terrorist with countless law enforcement agencies descending on the town to investigate. Among them is ATF agent Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington) out of the New Orleans office. A dogged investigator, Carlin follows the clues, trying to find out why a suspicious corpse ended up in the explosion's aftermath. He's approached by an FBI agent (Val Kilmer) leading a special investigative team that has some special technology at its disposal. They say it enables them to compile satellite images to see what happened some four days before. Carlin goes along with it, starting to piece it all together, all in hopes of finding some clue that will lead them to the terrorist bomber. It isn't long though before he figures out the "satellite" description is garbage. Somehow, some way, he's literally looking back in time...
What a fun, smart, stylish movie. Like I mentioned, time-travel movies are inherently complicated to the point it is difficult/impossible to 1. Keep up with it and 2. Not shake your head at the goofiness of it. With director Tony Scott at the helm, it has some of the stylistic elements of his previous efforts, especially Man on Fire, Spy Game and Enemy of the State. The quick cuts, the rapid camera movement, the unique shooting angles, it's all there, combining with a memorable score from Harry Gregson-Williams to add that great secondary layer to the story.
For me though what sets 'Deja Vu' apart from so many time travel movies -- Back to the Future to The Terminator, Looper to Planet of the Apes and many more -- is its creativity. It seems to revel in that creativity, that original, generally unique idea. How so? SPOILERS Carlin figures out they're not looking back in time, they're literally watching the past happen through some time-bending technology this investigative team has stumbled upon. Plot holes, time discrepancies aside, it's so cool as a premise. Scott's clearly having some fun with the time-bending concept, especially with a bit of technology that allows Carlin to wear a goggle headset so the time-traveling moves with him, what he sees through the goggles is what happened previously. Wwwwwhhhhaaaatttt? The premise injects some crazy energy into the always fun car chase sub-genre. Just watch this extended chase scene, sit back and smile, take it all in.
There is something eternally watchable about Denzel Washington in just about any movie he does, from heavy drama like Philadelphia or Glory to more mainstream, fun affairs like 2 Guns, Out of Time and Deja Vu. His Doug Carlin is a career agent with the ATF, and a good agent at that. He's a dogged investigator, stubbornly pursuing his cases, especially a terrorist attack that tears apart a city with the deaths of 500-plus people. Washington is so good, so effortless, it's just a pleasure to watch him do his thing. He's calm and cool...until he isn't like when he pieces it all together and figures out exactly what kind of technology he's working with. The case develops around the dead body of a beautiful young woman (Paula Patton) from New Orleans, Carlin wondering what he could have done to save her. Could he have done something different? Not one of his best performances, but just about any Denzel is good Denzel.
Dezel is the star, and Paula Patton gets a chance to shine in the final act, but who else to look for? Doc Holliday himself, Val Kilmer, has some good chemistry as Carlin's quasi-counter, not always telling the full truth while not lying either. His team includes the always reliable Adam Goldberg, Erika Alexander and Elden Henson. As for the villain who we see in all sorts of different ways courtesy of the time-bending story, Jim Caviezel is perfectly creepy, a so-called patriot but an unhinged one willing to go to horrific measures. Bruce Greenwood is a high-ranking FBI official on the case while Matt Craven appears briefly as Doug's long-time partner in the field.
It can be so easy with time-traveling stories for things to derail and do so quickly. That's not the case here with a story that manages to hold it all together under some post-movie scrutiny. The multiple storylines (and timelines) hold together when you really (really) think about it. Through it all, it's fun, even a final act that comes across as a little forced, a little too gimmicky. Still, 'Deja' is ridiculously fun from beginning to end with a finale that's frustrating a touch, but mostly, it just works so well. So freaking entertaining. Highly recommended, a great time-bending thriller.
Deja Vu (2006): ***/****