2006. Directed by Tony Scott.
Very few films ever manage to get time travel right. It always seems to break the rules of the narrative and the story struggles to course correct which inevitably weakens the overall experience. Tony Scott's romantic sci-fi thriller, Deja Vu, manages to overcome this fatal flaw and deliver a tense, action packed love story that never tries to take itself seriously.
A domestic terrorist attack leaves hundreds of Navy sailors and their families dead. The ATF agent assigned to case is drafted to participate in a new task force using a program called Snow White, that allows the agents to look into and possibly alter the past. Along the way, the titular hero falls in love with one of the victims of the bombing, making stopping the killer a personal mission of destiny and fate.
Denzel Washington leads a powerhouse cast as the eponymous ATF agent Doug Carlin. This is a vintage Denzel turn. His passion, dedication, and infatuation are both reasonable and foolhardy, creating a unique take on the star crossed lovers pastiche, in which one of the lovers isn't alive. You feel his emotional attachment build in each act, culminating in the scorching finale. Washington is supported by Val Kilmer, Jim Caviezel, Matt Craven, and the legendary Bruce Greenwood. Paula Patton is drop dead gorgeous and New Orleans dangerous in her searing turn as the dead woman who haunts Denzel's character from the jump.
Paul Cameron's cinematography is tight and vibrant, displaying the Scott's signature quiver-camera with precision. Post Katrina New Orleans is alive and well in Cameron's capable hands and it shines in every frame. However, the real treat of this film is the visual effects. Almost 400 different effects were used in the creation of Deja Vu. The explosion of the ferry in the first sequence is technical three card molly. An actual ferry was used and despite the destruction on display, the ferry returned to normal passenger transport four days later after cosmetic repairs, highlighting Marc Varisco's consummate mastery of special effects. The car chase scene during the middle act is pure adrenaline bait for the unindoctrinated and merits a rewatch upon completion.
Bill Marsillii and Terry Rossio's script delivers a terse mystery laced with snap crackle dialogue and a unique take on time travel that, while not inventing anything new, manages to present the idea as an off shoot of surveillance in a pre-9/11 America. There are glaring parallels to McVeigh and the Oklahoma bombing, but the aspect of Deja Vu that propels it beyond a paranoia piece is it's heart. This is a love story in which two souls are separated not only by death, but by time itself. Denzel's odyssey through the rain slicked streets of New Orleans to unite with his possible love is the centerpiece and it delivers in a smart, touching finale that leaves you smiling at how slick the story was. It's not high art or deep, brainy science fiction, it's just flat out fun.
Available now for digital rental, Deja Vu is a fast and furious love story wrapped in a time travel actioner that delivers mind blazing effects and a genuine good time. Vintage Scott in every regard, pop the corn, press play, and let it's by the numbers magic seduce you with it's charm. You won't regret the departure.