Movie Review: “Point and Shoot”

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In a cinema recently overrun with combat documentaries, Marshall Curry’s “Point and Shoot” manages a first. Here’s a film that captures the romance of war amongst today’s young and testosterone-fueled.
Want to know why young men from all over the world have flocked to fight for ISIS? “Point and Shoot” explains it.
As fresh as this afternoon’s latest viral video, and as immediate, Curry’s film follows a young man’s “crash course in manhood,” a self-documented
series of adventures that a self-described “spoiled” Baltimorean set out on that culminated in his eager participation in the Libyan Revolution.
Matthew Vandyke had a Georgetown degree, a girlfriend and was living off his mom when he set out, by motorcycle, across the Middle East.
Inspired by “Lawrence of Arabia,” a lifetime of Hollywood action films and by the swaggering Australian adventurer Alby Mangels (TV’s “Adventure Bound”), Vandyke bought a bike and a camera and crisscrossed the Middle East, from Morocco to Syria, Egypt to Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan.
He got press credentials and was embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq, grew a beard and visited the house where Osama bin Laden was killed, where he stole a brick and planted a tiny American flag.
He popped wheelies, wrecked and and recorded hours and hours of video on some of the most harrowing roads in the world.
And then he met some Libyan hippies, fell in love with the country and decided, when the civil war started there in the late winter of 2011, that he should stop simply recording the world he saw. This time, he would participate. He wouldn’t just target practice with every weapon American G.I.s let him try out. He’d carry them into battle, fire them at an enemy and try to bring down a dictator.
It’s a jaunty movie, as the narcissistic adrenalin junkie and OCD sufferer rolls down the roads of the world he only knew through books and freaks out at toilets that give “primitive” a bad name. But as the story turns more serious, so does what he filmed. The footage he captured was first-person stunning — firefights and breathtaking motorcycle rides, Tripoli before Gaddafi fell and Baghdad during U.S. occupation. He was living his dream, starring in his own adventure, in his own movie.
But it took Curry, the acclaimed documentarian who gave us the political campaign film “Street Fight” and the NASCAR stars in training movie “Racing Dreams” to organize it, see the story and big themes and make a movie out of it all. Whatever else he was, Vandyke was no filmmaker. He would just, as the movie suggests, “Point and Shoot.”
In revealing narration and occasional questions from Curry, Vandyke expounds upon how video and the presence of a camera altered the revolutions that swept through the Middle East in 2010 and 2011. These were young men, as himself Vandyke admits, whose “concept of war” comes from TV and movies. They’d stand in the middle of a firefight, emptying their clip, shooting from the hip like Stallone or Schwarzenegger.
They’d pose, as he posed, with weapons they were about to fire.
“Everybody wants something they can share on Facebook.”
They and he were amateurs, but over the course of the civil war, they harden into wary, smart fighters and not just macho yahoos riding in the back of machine gun-armed pickups.
Vandyke may have come to his various epiphanies about the machismo and adrenalin-fueled excitement of war, being swept up in a cause that boils down to sticking with and sticking up for your friends, of young men craving adventure and willing to take deadly risks to leap from video games to house-to-house combat.
But with Curry’s help and Curry’s editing — animation is used to recreate a sequence where Vandyke was imprisoned — Vandyke’s story becomes the universal one this self-centered man-child could never have dreamed he was making as he was shooting it.

3half-star
MPAA Rating: unrated, with bloody violence, profanity

Cast: Matthew Vandyke

Credits: Written and directed by Marshall Curry. An Orchard release.

Running time: 1:23

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