When Hollywood kills a president, there are rules filmmakers typically follow. Cinema's most notable presidential hits (In the Linfe of Fire, The Day of the Jackal) are cut-and-dried in their execution: An unhappy guy becomes homicidal, hatches an elaborate plan and plays a little cat-and-mouse game with authorities; then bullets whiz toward his target, who is, of course, an elder Caucasian male. Columbia Pictures' Vantage Point, however, bucks the standard. Instead, moments after the president gets blown away, he watches it via instant replay. {Hey, we're not spoiling anything. That scene is in the trailer.)

At a televised speech in Spain, fictional President Ashton (played by veteran William Hurt) is seen gunned down; the ensuing chaos is presented through the eyes of eight separate attendees. The "vantage points" of Secret Service agents (Dennis Quaid and Lost's Matthew Fox), foreign Special Forces members, possible terrorists and civilians (including Forest Whitaker's handheld camera-wielding American tourist) all offer varied spins, blurring any definite truth. "I simply loved that conceit," says director Pete Travis of the multilayered narrative. "You can't solve the film's mystery without seeing everyone's story."

For Manchester, Engladn, native Travis (whose debut was 2004' s critically praised IRA drama Omagh), Vantage Point, was a live-wire challenge. "We had three cameras focused on capturing what each character saw - or thinks they saw," he says. "It was important to keep the action real and exciting, so the camera is always moving. It has a kinetic energy." Pacing the complex mystery with a palpable frenzy helped Travis accomplish his objective - creating a balls-to-the-wall, sophisticated popcorn movie. "Too often the words 'intelligent' and 'action' haven't sat together well," reasons Travis. "I see no reason. If you care about the characters, you'll care about the action. If the film also makes you think, you'll care even more."