There is absolutely nothing wrong with director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s “The Tourist”. It’s a very romantic film, there are some nice suspenseful scenes, the Venice locales are certainly stunning to look at, and the cast is simply outstanding. It’s the kind of movie that could have starred Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint, or any number of “old Hollywood” movie stars from that generation. And that, unfortunately, may be the film’s biggest obstacle – it’s simply too old fashioned for its own good. But if you’re willing to overlook that “fault”, then “The Tourist” makes for fine escapist fare. Unfortunately, if you’re hopelessly addicted to your “Jersey Shore” or the slew of pointless E! Channel “reality” TV junk food, “The Tourist” will feel terribly outdated and “unhip”.
So sue me, I thought Johnny Depp as a hapless American tourist in Europe who gets pulled into intrigue by Angelina Jolie, a breathtakingly beautiful, mystery woman is a pretty good way to start a movie. Like its titular tourist, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s film travels lightly and leaves few footprints, casually gliding along with the mysterious Elise (Jolie) as she follows the instructions of her mysterious criminal lover, an Internationally wanted man named Alexander Pierce who no one seems to have ever actually seen (save for Elise, of course). To make Pierce’s identity a further mystery, the man has committed himself to $20 million dollars worth of plastic surgery. The impetus? He’s stolen billions from a murderous gangster played by Steven Berkoff, a Brit who likes to surround himself with Russian goons, and who is really, really invested in getting all that money back.
Pursuing Pierce, and in turn Elise and her new train friend, a lonely tourist named Frank Tupelo (Depp), a math teacher from America who she picks out of a crowd because he meets her criteria, is the hard-nosed John Acheson (Paul Bettany), a Scotland Yard cop determined to bring in the elusive criminal. Like Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest”, a film that German director von Donnersmarck (“The Lives of Others”) no doubt took some inspiration, the mystery only deepens as gun-toting thugs come after Frank and his fanciful case of mistaken identity leads to real life-and-death danger. We know Frank is Frank, but who is Elise? Who is Alexander Pierce? And who is the mysterious Englishman (Rufus Sewell) that keeps leaving notes for Elise?
It’s not hard to like a movie like “The Tourist”. Aside from the fantastic Venice venues (the city should really use the film’s reels as part of their tourism package, if they haven’t already), the film features two outstanding leads in Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp. Armed with an English accent, Jolie is quite seductive as the mysterious Elise, the kind of woman who draws men’s attention even in a room full of beautiful women. It’s not the fact that Elise is played by Angelina Jolie, it’s the fact that Jolie plays a woman who knows she’s the hottest thing in the room. It’s hard to fake that kind of sex appeal, and Jolie does it effortlessly. By comparison, Depp’s clueless, bumbling tourist is amusing and Depp is so convincingly out of his element that it’s hard not to love the guy.
“The Tourist” is a remake of the French film “Anthony Zimmer” by writer/director Jérôme Salle. I haven’t seen the French original, but from everything I’ve read, the Hollywood version seems to have stayed pretty true to it in many ways. Besides von Donnersmarck, “The Tourist” boasts a writing credit by Christopher McQuarrie, who has become something of a hot script doctor in Hollywood. I honestly can’t say if there’s anything “Christopher McQuarrie”-ish here, though I like to imagine he tossed in a joke or two for Frank along the way. “The Tourist” is not especially violent, with a pretty clean gunfight at the end, and exactly one cold-blooded murder along the way. As I’ve said, this is the kind of film that you could have plugged two Hollywood movie stars from the ‘50s or ‘60s into, and not really bother to change up the script any.
If the filmmakers were going for an old fashioned Hollywood feel with “The Tourist”, it’s mission accomplished. Jolie and Depp are very good in their roles, and for a film that really spends most of its running time walking, sitting around, and generally just chatting up a storm (with the occasional rooftop chase or gun battle thrown in every now and again), I never really missed the noticeable lack of major action set pieces. If you’re looking for random explosions or gritty gunfights, then “The Tourist” is definitely not for you. Anyone else looking for, say, a nice romantic movie with two beautiful leads all set within a great European setting will think they’ve died and gone to tourist heaven.
Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (director) / Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Christopher McQuarrie, Julian Fellowes (screenplay), Jérôme Salle (“Anthony Zimmer”)
CAST: Johnny Depp … Frank Tupelo
Angelina Jolie … Elise Clifton-Ward
Paul Bettany … Inspector John Acheson
Timothy Dalton … Chief Inspector Jones
Steven Berkoff … Reginald Shaw
Rufus Sewell … The Englishman