Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Movie Review: The Tourist

The Tourist **
Directed by:
Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Written By: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck and Christopher McQuarrie and Julian Fellowes based on the screenplay Anthony Zimmer by Jérôme Salle.
Starring: 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).

I knew that The Tourist was in trouble early on when the moments that made the preview such fun fell flat in the actual movie. Sometimes when this happens, it’s because I’ve seen the preview too often, and it’s lost its effectiveness. But in the case of The Tourist, the problem is more serious. It seems like whoever edited together the preview has a better understanding of comic timing and pacing then the editor of the actual movie. Watching The Tourist became an increasingly frustrating experience because it has all the elements of a good comic caper film - sometime akin to Steven Soderberg’s Oceans films - but the film has no real momentum.

The story should make a for a fine movie. Angelina Jolie stars as Elise, a mysterious woman in France who was once involved with a man named Anthony Pearce, who stole a few billion dollars from a gangster in England. Inspector John Acheson (Paul Bettany) is obsessed with finding Pearce, so he has Elise under constant surveillance - believing that Pearce will eventually come for her. It seems he is right as one day, Elise gets a note, and then tries to ditch her surveillance. She gets on a train heading for Venice, and as the note instructs her, finds someone of Pearce’s approximate build to get the cops to think it’s him after plastic surgery. This poor sap is Frank Tupelo (Depp), a math teacher from Wisconsin, who gets drawn into a game of cat and mouse, that he doesn’t even know he’s playing, Soon, he and Elise are not just being follows by Acheson’s men, but also by the gangster Pearce ripped off. And the question of who exactly Pearce is now becomes increasingly blurred.

Depp and Jolie are talented, charming actors and could play these roles in their sleep. Thankfully they don’t though. They really are trying hard to get everything to work, and they have a chemistry together that is hard to achieve. They play off each other nicely. The supporting cast - including Paul Bettany, Timothy Dalton as his boss, Steven Berkoff as the psychopathic gangster and Rufus Sewell as a mysterious man who always seems to be in the background - are all fine as well. The screenplay is the work of not one, not two but three Oscar winners - Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects), Julian Fellows (Gosford Park) and director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (The Lives of Others) - and contains witty banter throughout. Things are in place for this to be an entertaining little film.

Unfortunately, von Donnersmarck as a director doesn’t really know how to make this film. His previous film, the aforementioned The Lives of Others, won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film a few years ago, and was an intelligent, well made political thriller set in the 1980s in Germany. But that was a slow burn of a film, well paced and executed. But that was a very different kind of film, and moving over the Hollywood and making a comic thriller, he is out of his depth. Films like this, even when they are good, are often looked down upon as easy. But as The Tourist proves, they are hard. You would think it would be impossible to make a film set in the beautiful city of Venice (where I spent part of my honeymoon and adored), with this cast so dull, but the proof is in the movie.

I have a feeling that if Steven Soderberg had directed this movie - with the exact same screenplay and cast - that it may have become one of the most entertaining films of the year. But the timing and pacing in the movie are all off here, and as such, the film falls flat. It’s too bad, because the elements are here for a great film.

1 comment:

  1. Sorry, “if” is not enough. The only credit I can give in this film is to the camera man. He manages to get something out of Jolie that no one has ever got from her before.