“Point and Shoot” documents how a young American, who set out on a motorcycle trip of self-discovery and wound up in Libya, took up arms against Moammar Gadhafi. The film raises significant questions about manhood and offers a few gripping sequences but isn’t fully satisfying.
Most of the movie was shot by its subject — Matthew VanDyke of Baltimore — who then asked director Marshall Curry to mold the footage into a film. Curry conducted a long on-camera interview with his subject and offers bits of home movies from VanDyke’s childhood.
It’s partly a metamovie, as VanDyke seems fixated on visual imagery, and he’s not alone. He captured his cross-continent adventures with a helmet camera, and we see him frequently setting up shots.
When VanDyke encounters American soldiers, they implore him to record them in real and staged action scenes. And he notes that legions of rebels during the Arab Spring used cellphones to record events.
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VanDyke’s memories and self-judgments hardly lead us to expect a heroic type. The film offers a frank portrait of a young loner who fantasized about being an Indiana Jones-style adventurer.
But his reality was less exotic. He was a “spoiled” child (his own judgment) addicted to video games. He suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder and was anxious about the possibility of hurting people. In his 20s, he still lived at home with his mother.
Small wonder that he felt pressed to prove his manhood. “Point and Shoot” asks us to look at his efforts to do so, and it’s hard not to conclude that the film’s central figure still lacks crucial elements of self-awareness, even after his extreme experiences. That’s a disappointing payoff.
The movie begins in 2006 and covers about five years. During that time, VanDyke befriends a Libyan “hippie” and involves himself with Libya’s rebel forces. He spends 5½ months in solitary confinement in a bug-infested jail (rendered here in animation). Eventually he embeds himself with the rebels, armed with an automatic rifle and his ever-present camera.
VanDyke appears to have matured some following these remarkable events but gives no evidence of having had any blinding revelations. The narcissism on view is unmistakable and disquieting, but it’s a topic that’s been handled elsewhere with more depth. You could look at the movie simply as a remarkable adventure tale, but if there’s a larger point, it’s not crystal clear.