Director : Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Screenplay : Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck and Christopher McQuarrie and Julian Fellowes (based on the film Anthony Zimmer by Jérôme Salle)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2010
Stars : Johnny Depp (Frank Tupelo), Angelina Jolie (Elise Clifton-Ward), Paul Bettany (Inspector John Acheson), Timothy Dalton (Chief Inspector Jones), Steven Berkoff (Reginald Shaw), Rufus Sewell (The Englishman), Christian De Sica (Colonnello Lombardi), Alessio Boni (Sergente Cerato), Daniele Pecci (Tenente Narduzzi), Giovanni Guidelli (Tenente Tommassini), Raoul Bova (Conte Filippo Gaggia), Bruno Wolkowitch (Capitaine Courson)
A remake of the 2005 French film Anthony Zimmer, The Tourist is the Hollywood debut of German filmmaker Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, who won an Oscar three years ago for his tense Cold War thriller The Lives of Others (2006). Given von Donnersmarck’s obvious talent behind the camera, the fact that the screenwriting team also include Oscar winners Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) and Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park), and the combined wattage and eccentricity of stars Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, you wouldn’t expect The Tourist to be anything less than intriguing, if not scintillating. Yet, despite the gorgeous locations in Paris and Venice and their various five-star hotels and restaurants, The Tourist feels consistently flat and uninspired, as if everyone is working on a different page (the film’s history of rotating directors and stars, as well as its short production time, could account for some of this).
The story begins with Jolie’s Elise Clifton-Ward, a beautiful Brit living the south of France. She is under intense surveillance by Scotland Yard and Interpol because she is the mistress of Alexander Pearce, an international criminal who stole several billion dollars from a British gangster named Reginald Shaw (Steven Berkoff), $744 million of which is owed to the British government. Alexander disappeared several years ago, and rumors are that he has had extensive plastic surgery to hide his identity. Those rumors are seemingly confirmed when Elise receives a note from him instructing her to get on a train to Venice and find a man of his height and build to cozy up to, with the idea that the police will assume the innocent bystander is him.
Once on the train, Elise locks her eyes on Frank Tupelo (Johnny Depp), a naïve community college math teacher from Wisconsin travelling Europe alone (although it is testament to the film’s insistence on glamour that Frank, despite being a supposed fuddy-duddy from the Midwest, is immaculately clothed in chic designer fashions). In stark contrast to his over-the-top performances in the Pirates of the Caribbean series and Alice in Wonderland (2009), Depp comes dangerous close to underplaying Frank with a subtly mannered performance that relies heavily on nervous facial movements that demand constant close-ups. His blasé responses to the increasingly ridiculous situations in which he find himself may strike some as borderline somnambulistic, although it fits given Depp’s general resistance to playing any role in a conventional sense (it also might remind some of his dead-on impersonation of Buster Keaton in Benny & Joon).
Angelina Jolie plays Elise as sultry and commanding in her Parisian runaway-ready garb, but also vacant, like a beautiful, long-necked mannequin, which makes it all but impossible to buy into the idea that she starts falling for Frank once she draws him into her orbit. It doesn’t help that she is putting him in mortal danger to suit her own agenda of reconnecting with an international criminal who she professes to still love after not having heard from him in two years. But, no matter, this is what the plot dictates, and so we follow along as Frank is pursued by both Scotland Yard, who is led by the determined and apparently conscience-less Inspector John Acheson (Paul Bettany), and Reginald Shaw, who arrives in Venice with a small army of Russian goons to do his dirty work.
Given the generally ludicrous nature of the plot, von Donnersmarck tries to lighten the mood by going for variations of physical comedy whenever possible, whether it be Depp in his blue pajamas evading bullets along the Venetian rooftops or Jolie dragging Depp behind a boat in the canal to save him from a corrupt Italian police detective. Along the way we are supposed to believe that Frank, ever the everyman, is developing into some kind of would-be action hero with all kinds of newfound confidence. It never quite works; despite Depp’s game performance, he and Jolie, who spends most of the film simply posing and smiling mysteriously, have virtually no chemistry, so their scenes fizzle and leave us with no emotional undercurrent to buoy the rote thriller elements. If Roman Polanski had been behind the camera, I could imagine The Tourist as another one of his perverse riffs on Hitchcock’s wrong man in the wrong place scenarios. But von Donnersmarck, clearly aiming for the Hollywood mainstream, has produced a film that, despite a few minor pleasures here and there, is strangely undistinguished and immediately forgettable.
Copyright ©2010 James Kendrick
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