The Tourist, 2010.
Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck.
Starring Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, Paul Bettany, Timothy Dalton, Steven Berkoff, Rufus Sewell and Christian De Sica.
An American tourist becomes entagled in a web of intrigue and danger when he crosses paths with a woman whose lover is wanted by the police and the Russian mob.
Name Hollywood’s hottest stars. Go on write them down. Or rank them mentally, whatever. Just think about it for a second.
I bet Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp made your list. Presumably the casting for The Tourist was a similar process, “who’s a big male star, who’s a big female star, will they be in our movie?”, because this turkey from the end of last year is a perfect example of disastrous miscasting.
Maybe that’s unfair. The talents of such mega money names ought to be versatile. Perhaps a lack of direction was at fault for Depp’s catastrophically misjudged everyman performance. If there’s one man in movies who shouldn’t be asked to play it straight, it’s the enigmatic and energetic madman behind Captain Jack Sparrow. Possibly the script could have been tweaked to allow Depp to be a little more expressive and eccentric. It’s difficult to accept that the likes of Julian Fellowes and Christopher McQuarrie, who co wrote the screenplay, and Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck (The Lives of Others) who directed and co wrote, could have got it so badly wrong though.
Much easier to place the blame with the leads. Jolie has the same mysteriously sexy look in her eye throughout, as she struts about through an extended perfume ad, decked out in the most expensive finery money can buy. Several scenes seem to be in the script purely so that hordes of extras can turn, jaws scraping the floor, to ogle and leer at Jolie’s figure. Depp is even worse. As the ridiculous and sensational plot, which manages to tie itself up in knots, goes from twist to twist, Depp’s lifeless portrayal of an ordinary Joe from Wisconsin called Frank grows increasingly bland.
What about the absurd plot then? The film begins in a cultured Parisian square. Jolie’s character, suitably and seductively called Elise, ambles from her hotel to a cafe, followed by a not at all conspicuous surveillance van. She receives a note from her globetrotting lover, Alexander. He is on the run after stealing a couple billion from a gangster. Scotland Yard are determined to nab him for around 700 million in missing taxes and the gangster, played by Steven Berkoff, wants to do nasty things to him involving his reproductive organs.
The note tells Elise to hop on a train to Venice and pick a man of appropriate build and height. She then has to make the police think this man is Alexander, to throw them off the scent so they can finally reunite. Elise chooses to plonk her much coveted ass down in front of Frank, a Maths teacher still getting over the death of his wife and longing to flee a life in which being “down to earth” is the ultimate goal.
Whilst silly, this is just the setup to the irritatingly daft twists that will follow later. In fact I was rather intrigued by the beginning of the film. I was hoping to like The Tourist and even briefly anticipated I would be able to buck the trend of criticism with a review full of praise. Before Depp’s character degenerates into Jack Sparrow with all the entertainment sucked out, he has some moving lines of dialogue. You sympathise for him as he is swept up in Elise’s new and luxurious world. I ever so briefly felt his confusion, pain and possibility, as he arrived in the city of lovers alone, but with a stunningly beautiful woman.
Jolie too, really isn’t bad in The Tourist. She understands what the film should be. The silliness shouldn’t matter because this is a glossy caper capable of laughing at itself, reliant on the sizzling chemistry of the leads. Sadly Depp never finds the fun he shows in other roles. It’s as if he’s scared of letting himself go on Angelina in case Brad showed up on set one day, livid and determined to smash his face in.
The Tourist was fashioned by an impressive creative team and has a capable supporting cast. Timothy Dalton is superb in the couple of scenes he is in but aside from him the likes of Paul Bettany never really sparkle as they should. Even Venice, despite some perfect panoramas, isn’t done justice. It’s tempting to say that The Tourist is one of those movies that didn’t know what it wanted to be. There is definitely an element of that indecision holding it back. But ultimately what stops it being a good film, and it could have been good, is Johnny Depp’s character and/or performance. Neither was right. Both needed to be.
The headline names on the poster often walk away with the plaudits when a film hits exactly the right critical spot. Sometimes though they are also being paid to take the beatings when things go wrong.
Liam Trim (follow me on Twitter)
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