Mark Reviews Movies

Point and Shoot


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Marshall Curry

MPAA Rating: Not rated

Running Time: 1:23

Release Date: 10/31/14 (limited); 12/12/14 (wider)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | December 12, 2014

Point and Shoot is a study of overcompensation. The film's subject had, as he puts it, a "sheltered and spoiled" childhood, playing at games of imaginary adventure ("I'm the new Indiana Jones," he exclaims in footage from a home movie) while his mother warns him to be careful of the rocks he's examining. He went to college while living in the basement of his childhood home. He received his master's degree from Georgetown University, which is about an hour's drive away from his Baltimore home. Through all of this, his mother and grandmother still did his laundry. Naturally, the most logical way to escape this shielded existence was to fight on the side of the rebels against Muammar Gaddafi's government in the 2011 Libyan Civil War.

There's a gap there, right? A mundane life seemed in store Matthew VanDyke, and for obvious reasons, he decided that wasn't enough. Maybe that kind of life would be enough for him one day but not before he had a chance to live as an independent man.

Most people would  likely consider him doing his own laundry would be a good start, but for reasons that aren't as clear, he decided to buy a camera, a motorcycle, and a plane ticket to Morocco in 2007. From there, his plan was to travel across the northern part of Africa and through the Middle East. VanDyke would film a documentary about his adventures.

The footage he recorded makes up a large chunk of this film, in which director Marshall Curry interviews VanDyke about his life and especially his experiences overseas. VanDyke never comes across as the type who would drop his life, his family, and his (incredibly understanding and forgiving) girlfriend to set off on his own halfway around the globe as a means of discovering his manhood. He seems too quiet, too thoughtful, and too passive for that kind of self-imposed upheaval from a perfectly comfortable lifestyle.

That's the point, of course, or at least that's the most intriguing thing about VanDyke's adventures—other than the adventures themselves, obviously. He seems the most unlikely candidate for a four-year trek into potentially hostile areas, let alone a fighter in a bloody revolution in which he has negligible personal gain but takes on an abundance of personal risk. While on the lengthy motorcycle ride, VanDyke gave himself a moniker to serve as his alternate, venturesome persona, and even in character as "Max Hunter," he appears uncomfortable and reserved.

This is not intended to take away from VanDyke's accomplishments in any way. If anything, it's meant to point out that his accomplishments come across as more astonishing than even he seems to realize.

After quickly detailing his life up until the trek, the film becomes a simultaneous travelogue and a making-of document of VanDyke's footage. He rigs his helmet with a camera mount to better show him speeding down country roads and navigating through city streets. He explains the tedious difficulty of shooting a journey without the aid of a separate cameraman—constantly stopping to establish a tripod shot, followed by driving away from and back to the camera. He learns to pop wheelies and has to stop himself from doing it in those shots, lest he starts to come across as a showoff.

He also undergoes a psychological transformation during his travels. He has suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder for years. That translates to him stopping mid-drive and returning to an earlier spot on his trip, because, whenever he hits a bump in the road, he worries he may have hit someone. As for his lodging accommodations, well, they aren't the most sanitary places for a person who feels compelled to wash his hands for no particular reason. When he breaks his collarbone, he almost quits, but his girlfriend offers some harsh but constructive criticism. She realizes now that she might have toned it down if she knew what he would end up doing.

His involvement in the Libyan revolution was not a case of bad timing or anything like that. It came after he returned to the United States. VanDyke had made some friends while passing through Libya, and he felt obligated to help them in their struggle for freedom. As someone who became an embedded journalist with American forces in Iraq (He called a local Baltimore newspaper, which was thrilled to have someone offer to help), he ends up being one of the few people in the rebellion to have any military experience, and he only fired a machine gun a few times.

The footage, of course, is harrowing, as is an animated sequence that visualizes his nearly six-month detention as a prisoner of Gaddafi's government. He chooses to stay even after being freed. He can't decide if he's a revolutionary or a filmmaker. He wants to be both, but after finding himself in a firefight without his rifle because he instinctively went for the camera, he knows he has to choose for him to be of any help.

During the interviews, VanDyke is soft-spoken and almost meek in answering Curry's questions. It's modesty, to be sure, but it's also something more than that. Curry ends Point and Shoot by asking his subject if he achieved his goal to find his manhood, and he doesn't respond. It's not the kind of non-response that insinuates a simple yes or no but one that shows he's considering the legitimacy of the question. He knows he has changed, but how does one explain it? We get the impression that VanDyke is the kind of man who will spend a lifetime trying to find the words for an explanation and never find himself quite satisfied with the answer.

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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