Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
For a film that's got a Great Big Mystery at its center, THE TOURIST is a ridiculously simple film to figure out; it's told in the most straightforward way possible; and it manages to take a fairly conventional path toward decent entertainment. That sounds like a back-handed compliment, I know. I've never forgotten that it's possible to thoroughly enjoy a film even if it refuses to challenge you in any way. And usually when that happens you have a the actors to thank.
I actually expected something a bit deeper from director and co-writer (along with Christopher McQuarrie and Julian Fellowes) Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, whose 2006 Oscar-winning foreign offering THE LIVES OF OTHERS was a triumphant examination of loneliness set in the world of clandestine listening. I was encouraged when the opening sequence in THE TOURIST involved surveillance as well. Beginning in Paris, a group of mostly British agents are spying on Elise (Angelina Jolie, who struts around this film like she knows she's Angelina Jolie and that those who enter her gravity can't help but look at her). But it's not Elise they want, but the man she's involved with and hasn't seen for a year, Alexander Pierce. When she is finally contacted by Pierce, he instructs her to take a train to Venice, pick out a man of his approximate height and build, and somehow get those who are following her on the wrong scent. Agent Acheson (Paul Bettany) is the man leading the hunt for Pierce, although his boss (an appropriately smug Timothy Dalton) doesn't think he's up to the task.
Once on the train, Elis singles out Frank (Johnny Depp), an exotic-looking math teacher from Madison, WI as her decoy, and she comes on strong, even invited him to spend the night at her fancy hotel suite (on the sofa, of course). The key to their relationship isn't as clear cut as chemistry; in a way, it has to be anti-chemistry for a time. Frank knows that even talking to someone like Elise is out of his depth, but he doesn't spend much time questioning his good fortune and goes along for the ride... until people start shooting at him. The Brits figure out early that Frank isn't Pierce, but some misinformed Russian gangsters whom Pierce stole money from never got the memo. They want their money back and Pierce dead. The action sequences in THE TOURIST are actually quite fun, and having them staged against a backdrop as gorgeous as Venice was a smart choice.
And that's pretty much the movie. Sure, there's more chasing, Frank gets captured, he escapes with Elise's help, and eventually Pierce reveals himself. But before he does, Elise develops a strong affection for Frank's plain-spoken, charming ways. It's perhaps not much of a stretch to believe that Elise might fall for someone who looks like Johnny Depp--some might say it was the biggest leap in logic of the entire film--but Depp does a credible job dweebing it up a bit. Not much he can do about those looks, however.
There are a couple of twists in the back half of the film--one big one I saw coming from the trailers and one lesser one I didn't. But THE TOURIST isn't so much about the bends in the plot as it is about placing two of the world's most desirable people in the middle of a truly exquisite location. For as much as Depp is dialing the sexy back, Jolie is aiming for something just above smoking hot. There is literally a brief shot at the beginning of the film that is nothing more than a celebration of her (clothed) ass. But even Jolie in seductress mode is holding back somewhat in this PG-13 affair, but it still works. You can almost catch Elise cracking herself up that her most obvious moves are working so well on this rube.
There's nothing grippingly wrong with THE TOURIST (a remake of the 2005 French film ANTHONY ZIMMER), but once all is revealed, certain assumptions and plot elements from earlier in the film seem far fetched to be sure. Bettany is perhaps a little too tightly wound and one-dimensional as the pursuer, and whenever Elise and Frank narrowly escape his grasp, he tends to break out the equivalent of Homer Simpson's "Why you little..." Still, I'm pretty sure THE TOURIST isn't meant to be taken all that seriously. You can almost spot the leads winking a little at the audience as the absurdity of the story grows over time. Often, when you can tell the actors are having fun, that doesn't always translate into a good time for the audience. But in this instance, everything is largely in synch. Depp and Jolie are a solid pairing, and maybe one day they'll make a real movie together. In the mean time, this is a decent warm-up act.
-- Capone firstname.lastname@example.org
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