Collaboration. An important tool in the arsenal of many great directors. Wes Anderson has Bill Murray. Quentin Tarantino has Samuel L. Jackson. Tony Scott was the luckiest of all and had Denzel Washington to work with on numerous occasions. Their collaboration within Déjà Vu lends itself to their previous collaboration on Man on Fire. Its titular feeling of having lived in the moment before is found in its soundtrack and opening moments. These characters are going about a normal day as they usually would. Boat captains usher out the families as they cruise along the coast, another day in the life for them. As The Beach Boys kicks in, though, it is clear that there are ominous intentions afoot. Never have Brian Wilson and company sounded so horrific and demented.
It is the destruction Scott grapples with that sticks out so often in his features. Déjà Vu is on a scope far more manic than Man on Fire, but that may be because of what Déjà Vu tries to incorporate. Time travel is a finicky presence for the best of films. Scott and Washington don’t quite grapple with its subtle changes and flair, but the broad topic and scope of the project is at least amicable. While the Snow White project, the ability to look back through time, hear and influence events that took place some days before, is a good draw, it is the narrative deficiencies that make it feel like a MacGuffin that will help the story out of more than a handful issues. It does, and the inability to fast forward or rewind is essentially the only hurdle keeping these characters from cracking the case in just a few hours. Still, if they did that, we wouldn’t be able to spend time with this ensemble.
Incorporating Val Kilmer is always a great idea, and his chemistry with Washington sees two tough officers of the law tackling a terrorist plot that has already taken place. Narrative issues aside, Scott does grapple with a couple of awkward zooms and tracking shots. They are intermittent issues that never struck elsewhere, and it is at least a sign, for better or worse, that Scott was trying something new. Ineffective it may have been, it is nice to see some innovation, good or bad, in a genre that desperately needed it. Scott was a leading force behind such change, and while Déjà Vu does not push itself far enough, there is certainly much to chew on throughout.
Disappointing or not, Déjà Vu still showcases the tenacity and influence Scott had on the genre. He has captured the spirit of the early 2000s action piece like no other, and it is often fun to bathe in the nostalgia we now hold for these events. Barely two decades ago, but still feeling like a distinct, huge change. It is ineffective, though, in its discussion of what we could do differently to protect innocent strangers if we turned back the clocks. His narrative is clumsy and often held together solely by the immense pleasure of seeing Washington strike up yet another exceptional performance. He has been great before and after this piece, and he elicits his own déjà vu as he re-treads common ground.