Dir: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Did we just lose Florian Henckel von Donnersmark? While it sounds like I made up an ostentatious name for the ruler of a tiny country, a few of you know him as the director of The Lives of Others, the acclaimed German wiretapping drama. To see that his sophomore effort is a glossy Angelina Jolie/Johnny Depp jet-set thriller is, in a word, confounding. But remember, Donnersmarck is but a man, and when Hollywood comes calling with big bags of money, who are you to resist?
And, let’s face it, he could have done far worse than The Tourist, a remake of the French film Anthony Zimmer. Boasting a script by Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) and Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park), the film follows an American math teacher with the preposterously awesome name of Frank Tupelo, whom the mysterious Englishwoman Elise (Jolie — yeah, I know) sits across from on a train en route to Venice. They flirt, have dinner and even share a hotel room. It turns out that Elise is being tailed by British law enforcement because her lover, the elusive Alexander Pearce, has stolen a lot of money from a gangster (Steven Berkoff playing the most boring villain in a movie ever). Because nobody knows what Pearce looks like, Frank becomes a victim of mistaken identity. Rooftop chases, wrongful arrests and other Hitchcockian hijinx ensue.
The script is slight, but with some decent moments of wit — “You look ravenous.” “You mean ‘ravishing.’ You’re ravenous.” — and a couple of appropriate action scenes that never test our suspension of disbelief. What’s more, there’s no CGI — just pretty actors and beautiful Venice locales making for the sort of movie you don’t really see much these days. What was the last one? The International? Duplicity? Granted, I hated both of those, so The Tourist has that going for it.
You know what other movie they don’t make much of these days? The kind where Johnny Depp isn’t in a silly wig. That’s maybe The Tourist’s greatest gift to humanity, reminding us that once upon a time Johnny Depp was not a hilarious mannequin for Tim Burton and Gore Verbinski. Angelina Jolie is fine; in fact she delivers her best accent yet in that it doesn’t sound Transylvanian (see: Alexander, A Mighty Heart). Paul Bettany makes a pretty good foil as the English agent who’s kind of a dick while Timothy Dalton steals the show as his boss, delivering the final word on the plot at the end and fully knowing that he’s in a frivolous film. The film’s greatest sin is that there’s not enough Dalton — but that is a sin that many films (except Hot Fuzz) have committed.
The film’s second greatest sin involves where Donnersmarck and Oscar-bait cinematographer John Ceale place the camera. The camera is infatuated with Angelina Jolie and insists on keeping as close to her as possible, which is good if The Tourist were secretly made as some sort of masturbation aide but less effective as a piece of cinema. During the Paris sequence, I’m convinced that the capital of France exclusively exists around Angelina Jolie and follows her as she travels the world, collecting babies like Pokémon. Thankfully once we reach Venice the film starts to resist her magnetism, possibly thanks to the Grand Canal — I mean, how could you not show the Grand Canal? — but still, the film seems a little too interested in how she reacts in scenes where she is not the most important part.
But Donnersmarck could do worse than a solid pop thriller like The Tourist — it’s enjoyable but forgettable, with lots of prettiness to stare at. I’d like to think that Donnersmarck went on a nice long vacation with some decent actors and shot a film instead of a home movie, and now he should get back to work.
by Danny Djeljosevic