Relax. Tony Scott’s calmed down. He’s gone cold turkey on amphetamine flash, loosed cameras from their space-hoppers and slashed edit jiggery-pokery in half. Gone are the twitchy jump-cuts and jarring, repetitive “I am a bounty hunter, bounty hunter” voiceover. Removed from gimmickry, this odd hybrid of sci-fi and romance is allowed to breathe by itself, brimming with emotion and suspense. It’s a Scott film where substance thwacks one over substances, an electric thriller made by a filmmaker who’s left his glitchy toys at home.
Result? While the Top Gun director’s chaotic Domino severely lacked entry points, Déjà Vu offers several in the opening five minutes. The setting is New Orleans, a city drenched in the nightmare of Hurricane Katrina. The Stars’n’Stripes still hang at half-mast, but a canal boat full of 500-plus Navy personnel is creeping through the city with a bomb on board. Scott doesn’t cut’n’judder, though, choosing instead to swoop reverentially over the port. Eerie and gorgeous, scarred by horrors both natural and manmade, it’s one hell of a suck-in intro.
It’s to Washington’s credit then that, when this grit and realism is married to the absurdity of time-travel, the spell remains. His ATF agent is “dazzled” by the super-secret flash of the technology at his disposal, but his cynical enthusiasm for a time-machine that allows him to look back precisely four days and six hours mirrors the audience’s suspicion. Crucially, the film doesn’t take its time-leaping too seriously. Remember 2003’s Eastern Seaboard blackout? Caused by this machine, apparently. And everyone thought it was those bloody terrorists.
Of course, engage your brain too much and it makes no sense whatsoever – indeed, some running-time flab could have been thinned by not bothering with any “folding back space” exegesis. Ignore such scruples, though, and remember that time-travel films are founded on the principal of 2+2=5 and you’ll discover a movie steeped in a sentimental hope that with such tech advances, the world would be a much safer place. Take when Carlin meets the creepy Carroll Oerstadt (an intense, shaved James Caviezel). You fear the latter knows more than he’s letting on, but you’re buoyed by the idea that everything will be okay. Denzel’s got a time-machine. Yah boo sucks, terrorist.
A geek film, a detective thriller, a vamped-up, futuristic episode of CSI and an ever-so-slightly-creepy love story in which Carlin falls in love with dead Claire by staring at her four-day-and-six-hour-old self, Déjà Vu is like little you’ve seen before. If Man On Fire frayed the nerves and Domino was a juddering great pain to the brain, Scott’s 14th film feels like a new, more stately dawn. Welcome back Tony. And welcome back, epileptics.