– Summary –
Director : Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Year Of Release : 2010
Principal Cast : Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp, Paul Bettany, Timothy Dalton, Rufus Sewell, Steven Berkoff.
Approx Running Time : 103 Minutes
Synopsis: After a chance meeting on a train, a teacher from America and a mysterious woman engage in a subtle romance in the city of Venice, before secret agents and vicious mobsters track them down and threaten to kill them.
What we think : Beautiful, yet amazingly tepid, romantic thriller set in Venice; The Tourist is less a thriller and more a sleeper, even if lead actress Jolie looks simply stunning flouncing about the canals of the famed city. While she’s nice to look at, the film drags its heels with increasing frustration at being unable to become either the thriller it’s marketed as, or the romance the audience seems to be getting after the first twenty minutes – I couldn’t figure out which one the director decided he wanted to make, so I assume he just went for a double hander. The Tourist isn’t a film as much as it is just an excuse to watch Depp and Jolie have a holiday under the guise of making a movie.
Venice is rightly renowned as one of the worlds most beautiful cities. Angelina Jolie is rightly renowned as one of the worlds most beautiful women. Johnny Depp is renowned as one of the worlds most attractive men. You’d think a film featuring all three of these beauties might actually be a decent thing in itself; the location and talent on-screen are first class, and yet, for all its trappings of exotica and ritzy decolletage, The Tourist is a wasteful bore. Yes, it’s pretty, but it’s not very interesting. Unfortunately, as critics of Michael Bay will attest, style over substance will only get you so far, and director von Donnersmarck has misplaced his substance for elegant waffle instead. The Tourist tries very hard to be both exciting and enthralling, gifting audiences a veritable postcard-reel of Venetian extravagance and beauty, book-ending some sort of spy-vs-spy thriller, with the subtlety and nuance of fairy floss. Venice doesn’t really lend itself to subtle intrigue and double-crossing – even James Bond only visits for a few scenes in any of his films, and even then, he still manages to blow stuff up: no, Venice is the city of lovers, the city of romance and sensuality, dripping with every wavelet and gondola passing by your feet as you step through a city older almost than time itself. Violence and Venice are worlds apart, and only the bravest director dares bring them into competition.
Elise Ward (Angelina Jolie) is being pursued through Paris by secret service agents under the employ of Interpol, led by John Acheson (Paul Bettany), and after receiving instructions to travel to Venice from her lover, Alexander, she jumps aboard a train for the journey. On board, she meets Frank (Johnny Depp), a math teacher from America who happens to be in Europe on holiday. Elise uses Frank to usurp Interpol’s intelligence that he is, in fact, the mysterious Alexander they are hunting, while a blissfully unaware Frank falls in love with the gorgeous woman – a woman who seems to have everything, and who is also keen to give him everything. Meanwhile, mobster boss Reginald Shaw (Steven Berkoff) is also hunting Alexander, since the latter stole over a billion Euro’s from him; and he’ll use Elise to flush out the thief and get his money back. Frank, deciding to play the hero, can’t seem to leave Elise alone, and constantly gets himself into trouble with both Interpol and the mobsters, all to win the affections of a woman in love with someone else.
I’ve been to Venice. I can attest to those who have yet to make the journey, that it is indeed a magical city to wander through, with the sheer age of the place ensuring a mystique smothers even the most hardened traveler with an aching beauty that’s impossible to ignore. The canals and tributaries of the Venetian lagoon may be quite polluted, and the vaporous odor of sulfur which catches your breath as you float along through millennia-old waterways, but the city is so breathtaking in its scale and grandeur you forget the negative and leave with the impression of having visited a place that should not, by rights, be allowed to exist. To me, Venice is like a mythical unicorn, a zephyr of a place almost ripped from a mythology through up by a lunatic – the city seemingly floats on water, brings a grimy elegance to itself with the ebb and flow of millions of tourists, and enslaves your imagination like almost no other place on Earth. Yes, Venice is truly beautiful. It’s no wonder, then, that the makers of The Tourist decided to set their film there. Why not, you’d say to yourself if you were producing this thing, go to one of the most beautiful cities in the world and make a film starring two of Hollywood’s most glamorous, indeed, most beautiful people? It seems like a match made in heaven, and had the script for The Tourist been any better, it would have been a delight to watch this movie.
The nett result, however, is a different beast entirely. The Tourist isn’t so much a film as an excuse for Jolie to wear designer outfits in some of the most beautiful locations in the world. And get paid to do it. And we pay to watch it. Are we fools for doing so? Perhaps, but if you’re going to make a fool of yourself, then Jolie is the one woman on Earth for which it could be justified. This film reeks of indifference, a kind of malaise of writing which seems to pay homage to cliche, and yet is filled with the very thing it’s paying homage to. Spies, secret agents, chases and shoot-outs, all filmed in a very exotic location, aren’t the greatest bedfellows with a classic Hollywood romance picture, and if you’re ever going to see a prime example of why this is the case, The Tourist is it. Depp and Jolie, while possibly the most beautiful people in the world, have as much chemistry here as blue vein cheese and schnitzel. The script forces them together through a series of simple set-ups, although the obviousness of the narrative doesn’t allow for any real emotion in any of their scenes together. Jolie looks like she’s bored with the whole process of making a movie – she struts and pouts her way across the screen with those awesome lips of hers leading the way, and truly radiates that old-school Hollywood glamor of the 40’s and 50’s, but with Depp mincing about behind her there’s something just… askew about it all. Depp, given a badly written part in Frank, is even less interesting – Frank’s a flat, 1 dimensional character that we get to know through people telling us stuff about him, instead of finding out for ourselves. The obligatory twists, double-crosses and dream sequences (featuring Frank doing what we’d all like to do to Angeline Jolie – yes, even you womenfolk reading this have thought about taking her and ravishing her, don’t deny it!) come in regular intervals, like the script is ticking the “thriller” boxes as it goes along. You can almost see the genre cliches being molded by hand as this film unspools, and it’s aggravating to see such a wasted opportunity taking place before us.
The story is pretty convoluted; I have to say, considering the talent in front of the camera, they seem incapable (or unwilling) to involve us as an audience in whatever they’re actually doing. Characters just show up, behave like their “character” should behave, and leave again, maybe shooting a gun or running around frantically in the midst of Jolie and Depp trying to summon some sort of romantic longing looks at each other. There’s no romance – and we’re expected to believe there’s a conflict for Elise’s affections between Frank and this mysterious “Alexander”, when it’s patently obvious to all that Jolie doesn’t give a crap about either of them. There’s no thrills either, which is annoying considering the way this film was marketed as being a tense, semi-operatic thrill-ride: director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck can’t summon the on-screen energy to give this film any legitimate heft in that department, and as a result, The Tourist flounders aimlessly between pointless plot twists and cliches. The film’s single chase sequence, where Elise and Frank must escape pursuit by piloting a couple of boats through the Venetian canals, has as much impetus and tension about it as a day at the beach. The editing is quite soft here, the lack of energy and tension seeping from the screen and diddling your eyeballs with a ner-ne-ner-ne-ner-ner at how idiotic it all is. von Donnersmarck knows where the films strengths are, though, and makes sure that strength is on-screen as often as possible, for as long as possible. Angelina Jolie could read a fricking laundry list and most men on Earth would watch: her magnetic screen presence is stronger than ever thanks to some exquisite costuming and lighting (God, those eyes are enormous!), but this is a far cry from the Oscar winning Girl Interrupted, or Gia, or even Pushing Tin. There’s no sense of her actually having to perform, no real acting required here: she’s just in this to look good and sell tickets, and that’s a shame.
Where the real annoyance struck me, though, is with the ancillary characters – Paul Bettany and Timothy Dalton are miscast and wasted respectively in this film. Bettany’s secret service Interpol agent guy is ripped right out of a Dan Brown novel, and Tim Dalton’s made a career of playing the hard-ass since his Bond days that he barely needs to even show up. Bettany’s a much better actor that this film deserves, and frankly, I think we deserve better, sir. Dalton’s character could have been played by a blow-up sex doll and it would’ve had just as much impact on the movie. Even the wonderful Steven Berkoff, known for playing the bad guy roles, can’t elevate this badly written character above the simple, broad brushstrokes the script gives him to work with.
With a story so weak, and characters so desperately thin with emotion and content, The Tourist falls back to it’s third, and perhaps best, strength – its location. The film uses Venice like a porn star uses contraception: all the time. Venice is a character unto itself here, the glorious widescreen vistas and magnificent architecture of the northern Italian capital making this a truly visual feast, the kind of film you could pause randomly and just fall into the screen with romance. John Seale’s cinematography here is simply glorious, the kind of art that needs to hang in a really old building so people have to pay to see it. How he wasn’t nominated for an Oscar for this film is just beyond me. The score, by James Newton Howard, is serviceable without being overt or even entirely memorable – it does the job and leaves it at that. von Donnersmarck’s direction is flaccid and uneven, much like the script, and it would behoove me to do you all a favor and throw a brickbat in his general direction. He comes with recognition, don’t forget, after his debut feature, The Lives Of Others (German: Die Leben der Anderen) picked up the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2006 – truth be told, I expected more.
The Tourist is a film missing something intrinsic to make it worthwhile – heart. I got the distinct feeling while watching this that I was being gypped – the cast were all on holiday, and they filmed a few bits and pieces to make it seem like it was an actual movie. It’s neither a romantic nor a thrilling film, nor is it really a film about anything much at all – the characters are generic, the story doesn’t go anywhere interesting, and the general impression is one of complete boredom. This doesn’t bode well for anybody keen to give it a watch, so consider yourself fairly warned. The Tourist will be of interest only for curiosity value in the future – it’s a mere blip on the journey for both Depp and Jolie, and the lack of respect they give the audience who’s paying to see this is concerning indeed.
What Others Are Saying About The Tourist:
Dan The Man felt much the same as we did: “Not as terrible as people say, just disappointing.”
Sam at Duke & The Movies really went to town on it: “A movie like “The Tourist” can work, it was done earlier in the year with “Knight and Day”. But this film fails for the same reason “Knight and Day” hit. Chemistry. The two leads have none.”
Tom Clift didn’t like it much either: “The Tourist, to be fair, is not actually a terrible film. It’s definitely not good, but not totally awful either. Despite this, my own personal feeling towards it is one of deep loathing, and one that grows stronger with each passing hour.”
Lauren at The Movie Brothers didn’t like it much: “The Tourist” should have been a good movie, maybe even great. Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie in a caper through the romantic canals of Venice is a great set up. But something was missing. Chemistry, I guess.”