Sunday, January 2, 2011
The Tourist Movie Review: Old Hollywood Style Glamour and Mystery
There are European directors who toil away for years before attaining any Hollywood recognition and many of them go on to successful State-side careers. Very rarely a director strikes it big with his debut. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film for his first feature film, the brilliant The Lives of Others. Now you can see his follow-up, The Tourist, a star vehicle for Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. It is decidedly mainstream, albeit with what many would call a European sensibility.
With Christopher McQuarrie, who penned The Usual Suspects, as one of the credited screenwriters (along with von Donnersmarck and Gosford Park scribe Julian Fellowes) it may come as no surprise that the plot harbors a few secrets and maybe a twist, which you’ll see coming a mile away if you’re even remotely well-versed in the tropes of the spy genre, as Frank Tupelo (Depp’s character) is.
Tupelo is the unsuspecting eponymous character, singled out by Jolie’s Elise as a fall guy to take the place of her enigmatic, elusive and wanted by Scotland Yard lover. Maybe Elise really clicks with Frank and her invitation to join her at her luxurious hotel and dine in elegance with her is genuine. Or is it part of a ruse to throw off the sniffing agents. This little game leads to real mistaken identity with a rich gangster named Reginald Shaw, who is now some 2 billion Euros short thanks to Elise’s lover. Shaw is played by Steven Berkoff, who might be most recognizable as Victor Maitland (the bad guy) in Beverly Hills Cop. Shaw is not all that different from Maitland – a cold-blooded villain made all the more daunting by his English accent looking to kill for what was stolen from him.
The Scotland Yard investigators are Acheson (Paul Bettany), who seemingly has a personal stake in following the case through to the end, and Timothy Dalton as his supervisor interested in shutting it down so as not to throw away any more money on a meaningless pursuit. Meanwhile Rufus Sewell walks around as “The Englishman.” He never says anything, but he’s always there. Roger Ebert often writes about the Law of Economy of Characters. Said law suggests that there’s something important about him.
The plot is pretty standard spy genre material and the execution is certainly less than I would expect from the talent that came together for this, but something about The Tourist is refreshingly enjoyable. It’s a respectable attempt at Hitchcockian suspense, but admittedly falls far short of achieving the same allure that the Master imbued his movies with. It’s got an old Hollywood gloss to it with its picturesque European locale (Venice) whose beauty is only surpassed by the film’s leading lady, and sumptuous settings and costumes, the most glamorous of which comes in the form of a ball, the kind of gala not often seen in films since Hollywood’s Golden Age.
The screenplay is unusually spare, never offering two words where one would suffice. There is little in the way of exposition – always a relief in this genre typically replete with characters who talk to the audience and villains who explain their motives before pulling the trigger on the hero.
In his early scenes, Depp comes across as if he’s a bit dumbfounded to find himself in his predicament. He is altogether too willing to follow Elise around Venice (although looking the way Jolie does in this film, I suppose anyone would). There’s not a whole lot to say for the performances of the two leads, who don’t provide much that isn’t in complete service to the plot. Therein lays the most obvious departure from the classics of the genre and the one major disappointment of the film. Hitchcock always provided interesting characters. Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant weren’t just pretty faces in Notorious or North by Northwest, they had real characters to cope with. Depp and Jolie seem to glide through the frame doing little more than appealing to the audience and waiting for the next scene. I only wish they had something more interesting to do. I would have expected more from McQuarrie, von Donnersmarck and Fellowes (Oscar winners all). Still, it’s all so nice to look and quite diverting for two hours.