Skip to content

The Tourist (2010) **1/2

December 11, 2010

written by: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Christopher McQuarrie & Julian Fellowes
produced by: Graham King, Tim Headington, Roger Birnbaum, Gary Barber & Jonathan Glickman
directed by: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
rated PG-13 (for violence and brief strong language)
103 min.
U.S. release date: December 10, 2010
The stars have finally aligned. The Hollywood stars, that is. The two most bankable and reported sexiest stars working today, Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, have made a movie together. Conceptually, one might assume that a film with these two would be an action/adventure or a romantic drama of some sort. Just the two of them together should supposedly imply an ideal date movie, at the least. Well, neither is the case here. It’s easy to be entertained and swept along with these two attractive leads, in fact that’s about all that happens since the necessary elements are either abandoned or fall flat in what should be a fun European jaunt.
When we meet British beauty Elise Clifton-Ward (Angelina Jolie), she is being monitored closely by a British agency for unknown reasons. It’s unclear whether she is a criminal or who exactly this agency is (Interpol? International police?) or what they want beyond determining if she is or is not wearing underwear as she glides to her usual Parisian cafe. Some mystery is expected in set-up, but it comes across as needlessly excessive, and eventually becomes tiring.  I’m a patient guy. I appreciate build-up in a film, but after a while I just wanted to know why this woman is being followed. Beyond her looks, why is she in such demand?
Turns out she is the lover of a nondescript mystery man named Alexander Pierce, a money launderer who has stolen an insane amount of money from a gangster named Ivan (veteran baddie, Steven Berkoff) and is also wanted by the British government for tax evasion. Obsessed Agent Acheson (a boring Paul Bettany) will stop at nothing to find him, and much to the frustration of his boss, Chief Inspector Jones (a game Timothy Dalton) he’s wasted away countless resources in search of this elusive man.

They see a courier deliver a note to Elise from Alexander, instructing her to board a train to Venice and find a man with a similiar build in order to mislead her pursuers. She chooses Frank Tupelo (Johnny Depp), a math teacher from Wisconsin whose nose is buried in a spy novel. He is the titular character who never questions why a beautiful woman he has never met strikes up a conversation with him or has him ask her to join him for dinner. Of course, that’s not all, once their train arrives in Venice, she takes him with her. Elise checks them into the posh Royal Danelli and proceeds to kiss him on the balcony for all to see.  It is then that Frank becomes the requisite “wrong man” who will soon be thrown into rooftop chases, captured, and rescued, as the spying gangsters and agents believe him to be Alexander.
Right away, two Hitchcock classics, “To Catch a Thief” and “Strangers on a Train” come to mind along with Stanley Donen’s “Charade” since it’s clear that’s the vibe the filmmakers are going for. Those film have a fun charm that this one lacks though. It soon becomes clear that director Florian Henckle von Donnersmark doesn’t have a handle on the appropriate staging that those directors displayed.  He takes the slow-burn seriousness of his Oscar-winning superb 2006 film, “The Lives of Others”, and tries to employ it to this American remake of a little-seen French thriller, “Anthony Zimmer” from 2005.  
That method really isn’t needed here since the characters are familiar cinematic archetypes from the cat-and-mouse genre. Just letting these two stars breathe the same air should be enough for any director to have fun with but instead we get lines uttered at indecipherable whispers backed by vacant expressions.

The film needs a bit more bounce in its step, instead it slogs along, hoping that two pretty people and the picturesque locales will save it. It doesn’t. Sure, the actors do what they need to do, but they needed a director who can guide them through an atmosphere that has the appropriate tone for this kind of story. Director James Mangold’s work in this summer’s “Knight and Day” comes to mind. It’s not a perfect film either and there’s no award-winning performances, but the director knows that both the actors and the audience should have fun with the film. That doesn’t come across while watching “The Tourist”.
Maybe the problems with the overall feel of the film stems from the amount of people linked to the remake over the years. Director Lasse Hallstrom was attached and then left due to scheduling conflicts and Bharat Nalluri came on board but then left due to difficulties. At one time, Tom Cruise was to play the Depp role, even Sam Worthington was attached. All left due to creative differences. Charlize Theron was even set to play Jolie’s role too, it’s unclear what happened there. Even Heckle von Donnersmark had left, citing (again) “creative differences”and then returned. It’s dizzying just thinking about it, but that’s the way it is sometimes. It just makes me wonder if all those hands sucked the life out of the film over time.
The screenplay, co-written by the director along with Oscar winners Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects”) and Julian Fellowes (“Gosford Park”),  is clever, romantic and expectedly preposterous. I know I should’ve just let some implausible elements go, but they became itches I had to scratch. I couldn’t help but wonder why this beautiful woman, impeccably clothed and shaped would get attached to this meek mumbler from Wisconsin. Is she a Packers fan? How is it that he just goes along with this woman? Is he hypnotically entranced by her? Is Depp’s shaggy long hair and meticulously maintained facial hair (a pit stop on the way to the next installment in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise) the allure for Jolie’s siren? Where is his Wisconsin accent?
I know. None of this stuff really matters. Viewers are to just simply go along and watch the eye candy sail through the many canals of Venice. Depp and Jolie took their families to Venice, enjoyed a nice vacation and just so happened to shoot a film. I get it. I just left with the feeling that it could’ve been more, but for the life of me, I don’t know what.  
Like many other adequately made films this year, I didn’t feel my time was wasted. I was glad to see Depp taking a break from Burton’s quirk and the House of Mouse for a bit. He’s not a handsome rogue here, but rather an uncertain vacationer that falls into adventure with some trepidation. I was also completely comfortable seeing Jolie do Jolie. Head tilted slightly up, shoulders back, with a stride that has both men and women watching. When the story serves up some twists, they are expected yet welcome, giving the actors new hoops to jump through.  
Veteran cinematographer John Seale (“The Talented Mr. Ripley” and “The English Patient”, to name a few) paints the film with a well-suited 60’s feel but the score by composer James Newton Howard is at times obnoxiously pretentious. Whenever the focus is on the pursuers a swell of overdone orchestration jars the delicate romantic whimsy, dropping any flirty innuendo like dead weight. It’s been a while since I experienced a soundtrack that wanted me to feel a certain way, which is not at all what should happen. It should be at the service of the story, not force you to feel a certain way.
“The Tourist” is considered best as a postcard pretty picture with paper-thin thrills. The film may be somewhat anemically executed, especially in the final act, but I can’t say it’s a disappointment. Just a pleasant distraction with a mood that is too serious for its own good, serving as a reminder that even with a decent script, a caper mystery like this needs a proper tour guide.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: