Depp and Jolie's jolly adventure ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Depp and Jolie's jolly adventure

The Tourist
My rating:

When I first saw the trailer for The Tourist, I quite smugly called, "Hah! Gender-reversed Knight & Day!" But no, it's not quite. There are similarities, of course; ordinary person gets swept up in intrigue and adventure with mysterious (but extremely attractive) person of opposite sex, with whom romance blossoms. The tone is entirely different though. That Tom Cruise-Cameron Diaz summer vehicle was a hybrid of action movie and rom-com, two great tastes that went okay together. This Johnny Depp-Angelina Jolie-starrer is a throwback to old-fashioned glamourous romance-thrillers, specifically Stanley Donen's Charade and Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest. More specifically, the kind of movie Hollywood used to dazzle the world with and that they just don't make anymore.

That alone makes this movie a good one, no matter what Rotten Tomatoes says.

In Paris, an Englishwoman named Elise Clifton-Ward (Angelina Jolie) is being tailed by a team of police led by Inspector John Acheson (Paul Bettany) of Scotland Yard. They are tracking down her former lover, an international fugitive named Alexander Pearce - who makes contact with her, and tells her to take a train to Venice and pick a random man to distract the police. She chooses an ordinary tourist named Frank Tupelo (Johnny Depp), a math teacher from Wisconsin, who falls head over heels in love with her. Following her to Venice gets him in trouble with vicious gangster Reginald Shaw (Steven Berkoff), whose money Pearce stole and who now believes Frank is Pearce. Hijinks ensue; oh, and the last piece of the puzzle is a mysterious man (Rufus Sewell) who seems to be shadowing both Elise and Frank.

So yeah, 20% on Rotten Tomatoes. And less-than-glowing reviews from James Berardinelli, Roger Ebert and AV Club's Scott Tobias. I totally see where they're coming from, and there's not a word in any of these reviews that I disagree with. But I still liked it a lot more than they did, and I guess it's because of my background as an ex-aspiring and utterly failed screenwriter. Y'see, the screenplay is credited to director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck as well as Oscar winners Christopher McQuarrie (for The Usual Suspects) and Julian Fellowes (for Gosford Park), and it is a smart and solid piece of writing that is worthy of its Golden Age of Hollywood forebears. The problem is everything else.

I liked The Lives of Others, von Donnersmarck's previous (and first) directorial effort. Its story of an East German secret police agent who regains his humanity was remarkably subtle and elegant. Von Donnersmarck brings the same subtle and understated approach to this movie, and it's the absolute wrong way to make it. It's a thriller-cum-caper-cum-romance. It's full of wildly improbable twists and turns. It should be fun! But von Donnersmarck just doesn't seem to be familiar with that kind of moviemaking. There are two of what passes for action scenes - a foot chase across Venice rooftops, and a boat chase along its canals - and they're both shot and staged pretty dully (although the canal chase was a bit better, since it had actual beats to the action). This is a movie that ought to crackle with manic energy, and there's precious little to be had here.

But the biggest problem is how von Donnersmarck directs his actors. I've heard it said that Depp and Jolie have no chemistry together, which isn't exactly true; two such charismatic performers, in their first on-screen pairing no less, cannot fail to generate at least some smoldering. It's just that their chemistry is, again, extremely understated. Jolie was pretty good in a role that mostly requires her to look drop-dead gorgeous and act all icy cool. But Depp is supposed to be an ordinary schmo swept up in wacky and out-of-control events, and he just sleepwalks through it all. Here's a star famous for quirky and bizarre roles and von Donnersmarck has him acting as low-key as possible. Even Paul Bettany isn't spared; his character turns out to be a thoroughly dislikable individual, but he keeps downplaying it. Good thing the movie has the veteran talents of Steven Berkoff, who knows how to be understated and still eeevil.

And then there's its big twist ending. Which even by saying there is one is probably a spoiler, but I'm gonna take a gamble here and suggest that knowing it beforehand won't spoil the movie. I'd guessed the twist early on, and in fact I enjoyed it a lot more in appreciating the craft of how it was set up and paid off. The problem with it is that most people will think it's a huge plot hole, when it's really just missing a crucial bit of information. I'll discuss it in the comments, but von Donnersmarck's decision to omit it (I suspect it was in McQuarrie's and Fellowes' original script) reflects once again his ill-advised approach to directing this movie. He thought all it needs is for Depp and Jolie to smolder, and that will make up for any lack of that pesky plot stuff.

This must be my most uncomplimentary 3-½-star review ever. I enjoyed it, honest; the misguided directing didn't detract from the excellent writing. And there's at least one thing von Donnersmarck got right, which is to make everything look glamourous and beautiful. Whoa yes, this is one beautiful-looking movie. Venice looks beautiful. Paris, in the short time the movie spends there, looks beautiful. Jolie looks super beautiful. Even the background extras look like they answered a casting call that specified "Only Attractive People Need Apply." It is, as I mentioned, very much an old-fashioned '60s Hollywood glamourous fantasy of a movie, and I happen to like those. I bet if you do, you'll like it too. It's just a pity that the director made it so that so many others didn't.

NEXT REVIEW: Damping Malam
Expectations: kali ni kau kembali depan kamera ye? Biar aku asah pisau aku sekarang


TMBF said...

The fact that Frank was Pearce all along makes it seem like an "everything was part of the plan all along!"-type ending, and it's decidedly not - or at least, it shouldn't have been. What it needed to make clear was that Pearce, disguised as Frank, did not count on Elise picking him out on the train. He was there just to tail her, and he had a big elaborate plan that got all spoiled when she chose him, out of every other guy there. So he really was as completely lost at sea as Frank seemed to be the whole time - and he was genuinely falling in love with her, all over again, as she was for him. It may even have meant something that she happened to choose him on the train - that despite all the layers of deception and plastic surgery, they are always meant to be together.

I saw it that way, and I liked what I saw. :)

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