The Tourist is unfashionably old-school. It's a formulaic confection built on a variety of superficial elements that used to grace gems of the past. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Think classic Alfred Hitchcock. Think Cary Grant. These are good things in my book, right? While paling against the master's films, if you lament the long-gone era of beautiful movie stars romping around in gorgeous cities as they risk their lives, face betrayals at every turn and try not to fall in love, then The Tourist is the movie you've been waiting for.
Angelina Jolie plays Elise, a wealthy, robotic and emotionless Englishwoman we first meet in Paris. She's watched by eyes everywhere with the technology of modern surveillance trying to catch her having contact with Alexander Pierce, who owes 744 million pounds in back taxes (and even more to a nasty gangster he stole the money from). Elise gets a note from Pierce that tells her to board a train, pick out an innocent look-a-like to play the decoy for the agents monitoring her and head to Venice.
Johnny Depp is Frank Tupelo, the clueless stranger on a train that Elise picks out as the dupe. He's a math professor from Wisconsin, a tourist who enjoys mainstream crime novels and is intimidated and intrigued by the icy, chiseled beauty of Elise. Naturally, he's smitten and follows each new step into the lure as the "fall guy" she leads him into. When Russian gangsters are chasing him across Venice rooftops while shooting at him, he realizes he's just been catapulted into a real-life version of the books he likes. The realness has enough romance, danger, risk and uncertainty to turn this math teacher's world upside down and it will be impossible to return to the Frank Tupelo he used to be before this vacation.
The early portions of The Tourist are surprisingly subdued and this low-key quality remains throughout. The film leans heavily on the star power of the two leads doing what they do best: behave as movie stars. Jolie and Depp are dressed to the nines, bejeweled, well-coifed, cosmopolitan and embroiled in a mystery in one of the world's most photogenic cities. This is a star-vehicle and the film's ultimate success rests on the bankable charms of Jolie and Depp. It's clear why they would want to make The Tourist as it means filming in cities such as Paris and Venice for a few months. Rough work.
Watching The Tourist made me think about how the nature of the entire concept of "movie star" has changed. The film industry has fewer pure movie stars than ever before thanks to a culture that gives mass celebrity to the talentless, the reality-based, the internet sensation and the always annoying hybrid performers such as rapper/actor or singer/actor. It's diluting the entire notion of what a "movie star" has meant for nearly a century. It seems the public asks less actual aptitude in those it deems worthy of celebrity fawning.
Where has the glamour, elegance and sophistication gone regarding movie stars? Jolie and Depp are honest-to-goodness movie stars, regardless of the era. Put them in Hollywood in the 1930s or 1950s, they are still movie stars. Despite its flaws, The Tourist is appealing because it feels more early 1960s than 2010 thanks to its two leads.
The director of The Tourist has maybe the greatest name of anyone in cinema that has ever lived. His name is so wonderful, I'm hesitant to write it down as I want to make the joy of typing it last as long as possible. Get ready for something special: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck! As mentioned, Donnersmarck (The Lives of Others) has gorged himself on enough Hitchcock that it's not an accident there are traces of better films throughout The Tourist. We get a dash of Strangers on a Train, a little bit of To Catch a Thief, a little bit of this and that. Even the lush, orchestrated score by James Newton Howard harkens back to a bygone style of film.
There's no relation to this and the best seller by Olen Steinhauer other than a sharing of the same title. The Tourist has been an on and off project in Hollywood for years and it unfortunately has the feel of too many hands in the kitchen when it comes to the script. Multiple individuals were involved in the screenplay and the dialogue isn't that great as a result. It has the overworked feeling that usually strips dialogue of its crispness, its bite. As is the case with multi-penned films, each writer puts their ideas, their quips, their twists into the story, it becomes watered down, losing its sharpness.
I forgave The Tourists' main negatives regarding plot or script because I'm a fan of the intelligent, sophisticated thrillers Donnersmarck imitates. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (I couldn't resist bringing up his name again) has taken crib-notes while watching essential films from the past and tried to recreate them on the screen. It's pretty to look at in terms of scenery and boasts a couple of old-fashioned movie stars who grace the film with their presence. The Tourist is a pleasant diversion--nothing more, nothing less.
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