‘The Tourist’ movie review: Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp bomb ain’t all bad

The Tourist was ravaged by US critics when it opened stateside in December; Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers called it “the worst of the year, by a mile” when handing it the #1 slot in his worst of 2010 countdown. So, 90 minutes in, I was almost shocked to find myself thoroughly enjoying this refined but lighthearted, Hitchcock-influenced thriller, which explicitly recalls North by Northwest and To Catch a Thief, among others.

But just before making a graceful exit, The Tourist collapses upon itself while delivering one of the most disappointing endings in recent memory. I’ll get to the finale later; it doesn’t completely kill the film, but it’s damn close.

The film opens with Elise Clifton-Ward (Angelina Jolie) meeting a contact in a Parisian café, under the watchful eye of Interpol and particularly Inspector John Acheson (Paul Bettany). You see, she’s the lover of Alexander Pearce, a notorious criminal who has gone into hiding (and purportedly gone under the knife to change his appearance) after stealing millions from a Russian gangster.

Elsie gets a note from Pearce telling her to board a train to Venice, find a man who might resemble Pearce, and dupe him into becoming a target of authorities and the mafia. On the train, she finds Frank Tupelo (Johnny Depp), a Wisconsin schoolteacher travelling Europe while mourning the death of his wife. He’s reading a paperback mystery. Perfect.

This is a reasonably engrossing premise, and the immediate results don’t disappoint, as Frank finds himself running across tiled Venetian rooftops and swimming in the canals. The supporting cast, including Steven Berkoff as the mobster and Timothy Dalton as an Interpol superior, play things loud and broad, but the stars shine at the center.

Jolie is glamorous, sophisticated, ravishing; she knows exactly what kind of material this is, and plays off it perfectly, though an English accent is only distracting. She has great chemistry with a weak-kneed Depp, who is dour and stone-faced in a performance that recalls his in The Ninth Gate. He’s received plenty of criticism here, but they’re all wrong – he’s perfect, too. 

Subtle and quiet to the point of being accused of sleepwalking through the film, his character, a real wrong man to Jolie’s larger-than-life, glittering femme fatale, is the heart of the movie, and Depp drives all the silliness along in a way a knowing wink-wink performance couldn’t have. At least until the end.

That ending, without getting into specifics: it’s so dumb and obvious we’ve already dismissed it before it unfolds onscreen, and it satisfies neither logically (it’s just so stupid) nor emotionally (all of the character work through rest of film is thrown right in the garbage). It’s a sleazy, tacky Joe Eszterhas ending on the back of a classy Hitchcockian script. It sucks.

The Tourist was directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, whose previous film, The Lives of Others, was a masterpiece. This is not. It’s certainly handsomely mounted (the gorgeous Venice cinematography by John Seale helps), and mildly engrossing most of the way, but by the end it’s clear that the director has lost control of his material.

Like most contemporary idea-challenged Hollywood product, this is a remake; the original was the 2005 French film Anthony Zimmer, which starred Sophie Marceau and Yvan Attal and was written and directed by Jérôme Salle. Unseen by me, Variety’s Lisa Nesselson called it a “stylish, strictly-for-fun, lightweight thriller;” that description could also be applied here, though I’m wondering if the original shared that awful ending.

Why remake a little-seen 5-year-old picture that was not a critical, audience, or box office success? Beats me; “because it can be remade” is likely sufficient enough in today’s marketplace, but why three extraordinary talents at the top of their game felt the need to participate is truly puzzling. I note that a remake of The Lives of Others is also in the cards. Well played.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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