By Barbara VandenBurgh/Gannett News Service
Matthew VanDyke’s entire life unfolded in front of a video camera — a common fate of only children with doting parents who grew up in the age of the camcorder. It’s all there: the trips to the beach, clowning around in the backyard, pretending to be Indiana Jones and, much later, graduating from college a sheltered homebody with a degree in Middle East studies.
So it’s no surprise when the handsome, blue-eyed American turns himself into the leading man of his own cinematic adventure when, after a few viewings of “Lawrence of Arabia,” he buys a motorcycle, charges his camera, leaves his mother and girlfriend behind, and sets off for a “crash course in manhood” that begins with popping wheelies in Iraq and ends with fighting in the Libyan civil war.
“Point and Shoot” is a fascinating, frequently frustrating documentary that incorporates the footage VanDyke shot on his years-long, thrill-seeking adventure through the Middle East that ends up on the front lines of a freedom-fighting war, his narration frequently punctuated by the all-too-close whiz of bullets flying overhead. Is it bravery or vanity that brings a sheltered Baltimore 20-something halfway across the world to film himself fighting in a war in which he has no perceptible stake?
VanDyke is bright and lucid, asking all the right questions of himself as he recounts his journey: Was it selfish? Should he have gone home? Was he just play-acting at bravery? But he never answers them. As intelligent, self-reflective and curious as VanDyke, who suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder, is, he holds himself, and the audience, at a polite reserve. Even while recounting the five and a half months he spent in solitary confinement in Libyan prison, made even more psychologically strenuous by VanDyke’s OCD, he’s strangely emotionless. For someone who is so ever-present, he’s inexplicably impenetrable.
The film never gets far enough outside VanDyke’s head to make meaningful commentary about him, American thrill-seeker or the cinema-obsessed. We are talking about a guy who, at one point in his adventures, changes his name to the more action-hero-friendly “Max Hunter”; that’s an alter-ego as suited to take out terrorists or topple a foreign dictatorship as there ever was.
There’s not enough self-reflection in “Point and Shoot,” which maybe is the point. The question about whether or not his journey made VanDyke into a man remains pointedly unanswered.
Marshall Curry Productions presents a documentary directed by Marshall Curry. Running time: 83 minutes. No MPAA rating. Opens Friday at the Music Box Theatre.