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The Tourist

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

(GK Films, Columbia Pictures, Spyglass Entertainment, Studio Canal; US DVD: 22 Mar 2011)

Putting two of the biggest movie stars together on screen doesn’t always guarantee a good movie. Most of the time, the movie is at least a good dose of fun (Mr. and Mrs. Smith or Ocean’s Eleven) even if the plot is a mess (Ocean’s Twelve). Sometimes, though, even the shocking star wattage pumped out cannot save a doomed picture. Try as they may, the box office giants can only smile and flex so much until the audience demands more.


Such is the sad case with The Tourist, though Angelina Jolie does the flexing while Johnny Depp handles the sheepish grinning. Jolie, the sultry action star who’s created a bad ass reputation thanks to such hits as Salt, Wanted, and Tomb Raider, pairs nicely on paper with a man who resurrected his career with a similar type of film (Pirates of the Caribbean). In The Tourist, though, each actor handles their individual roles well while simultaneously failing to create chemistry with the other.


Some blame may fall on the lackadaisical script by Christopher McQuarrie, Julian Fellowes, and Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (who also directed). Relying heavily on its twist ending, The Tourist teases its audience along throughout its 103-minutes—just enough to make either possible ending work—but neither is satisfactory. What we know (or do we?) is Jolie plays Elise, the spouse of a wanted thief being tracked heavily by Paul Bettany’s Inspector John Acheson at Scotland Yard. After two years of seclusion, Elise receives a note from her estranged husband instructing her to find a man on a train who looks like him and trick her tails into thinking it actually is him. Enter Depp’s Frank; an impeccably dressed and groomed American math teacher who stumbles over his words repeatedly, as anyone who just met Jolie would.


Of course, Depp is no slouch either, but the movie conveniently glosses over this fact along with a few other plot holes along the way. It’s filled with twists and turns and forces the viewer to repeatedly reanalyze what they’ve seen because of them. Unfortunately, it does this a few too many times. I imagine the goal was to bounce around enough so the audience would give up and just have fun, but there’s too little fun to be had for that strategy to work.


Now, there’s quite a bit of this movie that cannot be discussed without giving away key plot points. So, in an admittedly vague and abstract manner, let me try to broach the subjects as best I can without spoiling, but still providing context for those who’ve already seen The Tourist. First, Depp’s performance is both highly entertaining and extremely implausible. The same can be said for Jolie’s British accent, except only the negative facets of each adjective should apply. We don’t get to see an awkward, sheepish Depp often enough (and thankfully this side of Jolie is kept under wraps, as well), but by the end of the film his mannerisms are almost too much too believe.


One strong aspect of the film (that I imagine comes across better on the Blu-ray version) is its beautifully shot locales. Paris and Venice have rarely looked so lovely. The movie star looks of Depp and Jolie may have brought moviegoers to the theaters, but I imagine they were calling their travel agents right after the credits rolled. Even if it’s the film’s best aspect, one could not look for a better travel guide/advertisement for the famous European cities.


While the Blu-ray release of The Tourist includes a few bonus features depicting these luxurious locales, the DVD edition only sports a few extras on the film’s glamour. Short and unremarkable, these behind-the-scenes docs are matched with equally an equally dull outtake reel and a director’s commentary sans the two voices we really want to hear from: Depp and Jolie.


In the end, The Tourist is a mixed bag of goods. For every plus, there’s a minus. We have Depp, but we have Jolie. We have beautiful cinematography, but lackluster writing. We have a few fun twists, but at least one big bad one. And since the ending tends to make or break a film, this romantic thriller leaves us in the dark despite bringing together two stars.

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Ben Travers is an awards season analyst and prognosticator with a devout interest in all things film & TV. Mr. Travers lives in Los Angeles as an experienced writer and filmmaker with an extensive portfolio of coverage, including thorough reporting on the Academy Awards, weekly box office reports, and more reviews written than will ever be read. He is a graduate of the University of Iowa with degrees in both journalism and cinema.


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