Everyone has experienced the unsettling mystery of déjà vu, that flash of memory when you meet someone
new you feel like you've known your whole life or recognize a place you've never been before. But what if
these unexpected feelings were actually warnings sent from the past or clues to an unfolding future?
In the captivating action-thriller from the explosive team of producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Tony
Scott, written by Bill Marsilii and Terry Rossio, it's Déjà Vu that guides Federal Agent Doug Carlin (Denzel
Washington) through an investigation of a cataclysmic explosion on a New Orleans ferry and the connected
murder of a young woman (Paula Patton). As Carlin's investigation deepens he is recruited to a newly
developed FBI Unit granting him access to a unique, top-secret government device that allows him to observe
events precisely four days, six hours, and a few minutes in the past...no more, no less. Using this window,
Carlin attempts to prevent the young woman's murder and avert a major terrorist attack.
Deja Vu Main Cast
... Doug Carlin
... Claire Kuchever
... Agent Andrew Pryzwarra
... Carroll Oerstadt
... Jack McCready
... Larry Minuti
Deja Vu starts out looking like a straightforward action thriller about solving a terrorist bombing of a New Orleans Mississippi River ferry and then suddenly veers into secret government agencies and science fiction. After toying with Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington) and by extension the audience for a few minutes, we're treated to a few minutes of exposition of speculative science on folding space and time-shifting. Once Carlin suspends his disbelief, which means the audience should do the same, Act 2 basically has Carlin diving right in and solving who was behind the bombing. Driven by an (unhealthy) interest with Claire Kuchever, an attractive newly-single young woman who somehow was swept up in the bomber's plans, Carlin spends the third act using the time-shifting to attempt to prevent Claire's murder and the ferry bombing from ever happening in the first place.
The film starts off straightforward enough, although we're still trying to figure out why New Orleans, who is still suffering from the ravages of Hurricane Katrina, was chosen as the setting for this film which is centered on the traumatic event of a packed ferry blowing up. Denzel Washington quickly makes Doug Carlin, who is an ATF agent investigating the ferry explosion, into an intriguing character. Suddenly, he and the audience are clued into a secret government surveillance operation. Something about their explanation doesn't sit right and Carlin forces them to put all their cards on the table. Turns out it's not just surveillance, but some kind of time-shifting device.
There's some exposition using speculative science. Carlin, obviously acting as the voice of the audience, asks the typical time travel questions, but the responses barely hold water. Carlin doesn't seem to buy it, but when they start watching the dead girl Claire, who is very much alive on the surveillance screens, he becomes voyeuristic and buys in. It's during this sequence that anyone expecting a more "grounded" action thriller would likely check out. Even though we enjoy science fiction and are used to speculative science, we got lost in the technobabble explanation and just had stick with the film and pull the last pieces together. In contrast, we watched the film with someone who doesn't watch science fiction and they were completely lost after this sequence. Although surprisingly, they admitted to "almost" grasping the story by the end of the film.Apparently, the filmmakers were hoping that casting Denzel Washington in the lead would be enough to retain the interest of those who would have otherwise checked out when the film took a turn toward science fiction.
After the hiccup of the technobabble, Doug Carlin buys in and switches back to his investigative mode. Using the time-shifting surveillance, he pieces together who committed the crime and how in a gripping sequence, which included a chase scene like we've never seen before. This could have made for a satisfying ending in that the culprit who had otherwise pulled off the perfect crime is caught. However, Carlin, who is established to have no family ties, has taken a heavy interest in Claire and he's not satisfied that she still ends up dead. The final sequence of the film basically retraces steps already seen in an effort to change events so the ferry never explodes in the first place. The film does manage to hold the suspense of whether Carlin can really change the past as everything he attempts actually seems to fall in line with the sequence of already known events.
We won't give away the ending, but we will say that we were surprised by the resolution of the climax. The film then managed to end cleanly and avoid the complications of time paradoxes and other implications of time-shifting/time-travel, which was actually posed by some of the characters within the film. Denzel Washington delivers a solid performance and his meticulousness is an asset to the film, whose nature invites additional viewings in order to pick out what at first glance seemed to be minor details. The film's use of time-shifting does open it up to criticism because of how far the audience has to stretch its suspension of disbelief. Among those who enjoy science fiction, the film leaves a few tangential questions unanswered, which will provoke debate. The film moves along briskly and is enjoyable if one is willing to swallow the one extensive bit of technobabble in order to get to the meat of the story. We've seen far less engaging films garner far more box office and buzz than this film.
Deja Vu DVD Extras:
- The Surveillance Window: Behind-The-Scenes featurettes: [37:13]
(Audio Commentaries by Director Tony Scott, Producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Writer Bill Marsilii)