Review: 'Point and Shoot' is a deceptively simple real-life tall tale
By Matt Prigge
4 (out of 5) Globes
“Point and Shoot” has a crazy story, and it knows it; in fact, it does almost nothing else but tell it. Matt VanDyke is a Baltimorean raised on computer games and the adventure docs of scruffy-haired Australian Alby Mangels, the original Bear Grylls. Wanderlust — and a need to have more than an abstract understanding of the other hemisphere — took him to Africa and the Middle East, where he went intending to make motorcycle videos. Instead he wound up fighting in the Libyan revolution, camera in one hand, a gun in the other. Even after he was imprisoned — a development that became international news — VanDyke stayed to fight until Gaddafi was gone.
This real-life tall tale eats up all of “Point and Shoot”s 80-some minutes. It even abruptly ends once the story itself ends; director Marshall Curry even cuts right after he asks VanDyke an in-summary-style question, not even letting him respond. That’s not to say "Point and Shoot" has nothing but story on its mind. There are numerous ideas running through the film’s narrative, often brought up in narration by VanDyke himself. VanDyke is someone whose mind has been warped by movies, who nonetheless finds himself fighting for real, for a just cause. He’s reckless in the style of a Christopher McCandless or a Timothy Treadwell, who also dragged around a video camera with him, documenting him documenting himself. At one point VanDyke is shown laboriously setting up a simple shot of him motorcycling up a dirt hill — similar to a several scenes shown in Werner Herzog’s post-mortem Treadwell doc, “Grizzly Man.”
But “Point and Shoot” isn’t like “Grizzly Man.” The director is Marshall Curry, a verite-style documentarian (of the Cory Booker campaign doc “Street Fight”) here working largely with someone else’s footage. He doesn’t take a Herzogian critique of VanDyke. Indeed, he simply offers an outsider’s view — almost like an editor pounding a writer's story into presentable shape. Any judging is on the part of the viewer, and there’s plenty to judge, from VanDyke’s stubbornness to his naivete to the fact that he basically abandoned his very faithful girlfriend for his own (albeit ultimately very selfless) interests.
VanDyke’s girlfriend is the only other person interviewed here; it really is that stripped down. It’s basically the “movie” (which is to say the recreated docudrama) version of the documentary — a rollicking ride that leaves you with a jaw-dropping story. But a docudrama version of this, with actors and everything, wouldn’t be believable. And it wouldn’t feature VanDyke’s footage, which evolves from haphazard to creepily beautiful shots of war. And it’s war that looks like no prior war; the battles aren’t teeming with carnage, and everyone is holding cellphones, documenting the action as it happens. Sometimes they stop to pose like action heroes from movies the entire world has now ingested. Even when battling for freedom, one must make like Stallone. These are aspects and nuances that would be lost in a straight-up telling, which would also milk VanDyke for sympathy and heroism. “Point and Shoot” does neither. It’s deceptively simple, allowing one person to tell a story both out of this world and extremely problematic — or, if you will, really, honestly and problematically heroic.