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The Tourist

Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp, Paul Bettany, Rufus Sewell

(Sony Pictures; US theatrical: 10 Dec 2010 (General release); UK theatrical: 10 Dec 2010 (General release); 2010)

“The target is still in the same place.” So reports a surveillance officer, his eye fixed on the monitor in his police van. His target is Elise (Angelina Jolie), and as he and his fellows watch her shadow in a Paris apartment window, she does indeed appear rather still. And then, she moves. The guys shift in their seats or lean closer to their screens, their day suddenly enlivened.  There she goes, the camera tracking her slender figure, draped in a beigey designer suit and wearing gloves to her elbows. Look, they exult, she’s not wearing underwear!


For all the agents’ boyish glee, their primary mission in The Tourist is not to track Angelina Jolie’s bottom. She’s actually supposed to be leading them to another target, one Alexander Pearce, who stole $2.3 billion from a gangster named Shaw (Steven Berkoff) and then disappeared beneath $24 million worth of plastic surgery. Two years later, the team led by Inspector Acheson (Paul Bettany) is feeling close to an end: when Elise heads to her usual table at a café, they can hardly contain themselves when a courier appears with a note.  Aha!, they deduce, the courier himself must be Pearce. Barely waiting for him to be out of Elise’s sight, they take him down, pulling him off his bike and slamming him against a wall.


When, of course, they discover the courier is not only not their man, but also four inches shorter than Pearce, Acheson is taken off the case by his superior at Scotland Yard, Chief Inspector Jones (Timothy Dalton—who should know better all around). As you might guess, based on Acheson’s complete ineptitude and the sheer silliness of the set-up, this change of assignment hardly matters. Mere minutes later, he’s alerted that the note—which Elise burned at her table while the team watched—has been reconstructed and yielded information. And so he’s on the phone to Italian Interpol, instructing them to stop Elise and whoever gets off the train with her at the station in Venice.


Acheson doesn’t know the details Elise knows, though Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s remarkably flatfooted film makes sure you do know. The man she’s meeting on the train will be a stand-in, someone she selects because he generally resembles Pearce and so will throw off his pursuers (and honestly, if you can’t figure out the plot from here, you need to get out more). Lucky for all of us, she picks Johnny Depp, here cast as Frank, a math teacher at a community college in Madison, Wisconsin. He wears a corduroy jacket, smokes electronic cigarettes, he banters, sometimes, maybe. The “tourist” of the film’s title, he seems both slightly charming and slightly slow, reminiscent of Hitchcock’s versions of Cary Grant. That is, Frank is not nearly as naïve as Elise seems to think.


Then again, it’s hard to tell what Elise thinks, as she’s set up here as a “target” without much else to do. She looks lovely, if a little stiff, adorned in expensive outfits and gowns, her makeup perfect and her hair extensions poofy. She drives boats in Venice, glides across ballroom floors, parts her lips and bends her neck. Frank accepts her invitation to stay in the suite Pearce has arranged for her in the Hotel Daniele, then fantasizes about kissing her while he’s sleeping on the couch. The music swells, the camera spins, and the movie strains. There’s not a surprise in sight, and it lumbers along in slow motion, explaining every step Frank or Elise or Acheson makes, twice.


Just so, Elise leaves Frank alone in her suite the morning after his fantasy, but stays close enough to the hotel so she can watch him clamber over tiled rooftops while on the run from Shaw’s thugs. “Frank!” she tells from the street, her face framed at an angle to highlight her cheekbones. “Frank!” He clambers some more, falls onto a Venetian police officer, and winds up at the local station, where a detective doesn’t believe his story, until he does.


It’s certainly not unpleasant to watch Johnny Depp, even when he’s mostly standing around and pondering the great beauty of Venice or Elise. Jolie is less good at doing nothing, but she’s also encased in all manner of makeup and architectural costumes. The trouble is that The Tourist doesn’t trust you to keep up with even its sometimes stunningly slow unfolding, and keeps explaining every plot decision, every camera choice, even every thought by apparently dimwitted cops and goons. Only Frank appears to be on top of any of it, and as you observe him observing the shenanigans, you wonder how he’s s patient. When Frank finally sorts out his escape from gangsters and cops and, at last, The Tourist, you will have long since sorted out your own.

Rating:

Cynthia Fuchs is director of Film & Media Studies and Associate Professor of English, Film & Video Studies, African and African American Studies, Sport & American Culture, and Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University.


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