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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Review: The Tourist (2010)

* * *

Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Starring: Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie

This time of year inevitably brings a string of films that are the cinematic equivalent of a hearty feast. The Tourist is like the sugary desert - not as filling or as nourishing as anything else on the table, but tasty nevertheless. The reviews for this film have been terrible and, I have to admit, it's not a particularly good movie - but I liked it. Many of the plot turns don't make any effing sense but I still thoroughly enjoyed watching this movie.

The story begins in Paris, when Elise Clifton-Ward (Angelina Jolie), who is under surveillance by a Scotland Yard team led by Inspector Acheson (Paul Bettany), receives instructions from her ex-boyfriend, a fugitive named Alexander Peirs. He advises her to board a train to Venice, find a man with roughly his build, and make the authorities believe that that man really is him. The man she meets on the train is Frank (Johnny Depp), a math teacher from Wisconsin, who is enthralled enough to accept her invitation to stay with her at her hotel once they arrive in Venice. However, things quickly get out of hand when the henchman of gangster Reginald Shaw (Steven Berkoff), whose money Alexander stole, show up and try to kill Frank, thinking that he's Alexander.

What follows is a series of captures, escapes and chase scenes. The action sequences that ensue - particularly an extended boat chase - are very well-done. At a time when all action sequences seem to be CGI and quick cuts that leave you with only a blury impression of what's going on, it's nice to see a sequence unfold in such a way that you can actually tell what is going on, where characters are in relation to each other, and who is doing what. The events leading up to these set-pieces might be nonsensical, but the result is solid.

The Tourist has three credited screenwriters: director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Christopher McQuarrie, and Julian Fellowes. All three have proven themselves to be excellent writters in the past - von Donnersmarck with The Lives of Others, McQuarrie with The Usual Suspects, and Fellowes with Gosford Park - but this particular film doesn't boast a strong screenplay. The story does not stand up to any kind of scrutiny and the "twist" at the end really only makes sense if you ignore everything that came before it. The Tourist is a spiritual cousin to films like Charade and To Catch A Thief but it only emulates the glamour and superficial beauty of those films, not their intelligence or the soundness of their construction.

The story of The Tourist may only be a throw-away excuse to have Depp and Jolie running around on location, but it's still an enjoyable film. I much prefer Jolie in films like this where she's in "movie star" mode rather than "serious actress" mode and I can't remember the last time I saw a movie where Depp was just... some dude. It was kind of unsettling at first to see him free of ticks, eccentricities, and tons of makeup, but he delivers a good performance as an everyman caught up in something far beyond his control (which is part of the reason why the final twist rings false but whatever). So, in short, the combination of Depp, Jolie, and beautifully photographed locations is winning enough that I'm willing to forgive all the ways that the screenplay is lacking.


Candice Frederick said...

interesting. i can't even picture Depp as some dude. and i much prefer Jolie as an a serious actress. i think that's where she shines the mos. thanks for this reviews. it was refreshing

Norma Desmond said...

Yeah, it's kind of weird but there's absolutely nothing quirky about his character here.