© 2010 Ray Wong
Harking back to the Hollywood golden age, The Tourist is a glossy, old-fashioned romantic thriller with high wattage star power. The question we must ask: Is it too old-fashioned?
Elise (Angelina Jolie) is being followed by the Scotland Yard in Paris to track down a white-collar thief Alexander Pearce, who stole billions of dollars from gangster Reginald Shaw (Steven Berkoff). Turns out Elise has been romantically involved with Pearce before he disappeared for two years. Elise receives instructions from Pearce to meet him on a train to Venice. In the message, Pearce asks Elise to pick a random stranger with his height and build, as decoy to distract the Scotland Yard, led by Inspector John Acheson (Paul Bettany).
Once on the train, Elise meets American tourist Frank (Johnny Depp), who is a Math teacher from Wisconsin. Attracted to the luminous Elise, Frank is convinced to tag along in Venice. Meanwhile, ruthless Shaw gets the information that Pearce is in Venice and travels there trying to catch him and get back his money. Believing he's mixed up in a conspiracy involving Elise, Frank tries to run away but is eventually captured by Shaw's henchmen. Just then, Elise shows up and rescues him.
Turns out Elise has fallen for Frank, despite her conflicting feelings about Pearce. As Pearce continues to elude them, Elise asks Frank to leave so he won't be in danger anymore. But Frank has other plans, since he, too, has fallen for Elise.
Johnny Depp (Alice in Wonderland) is fine playing an Average Joe who unwittingly gets involved with an international mouse hunt. Depp has an ease about him, and his performance is relatable and subtly humorous. Angelina Jolie (Salt), however, is in full "super star" mode -- she even wears the same glamorous makeup and clothes throughout the entire movie. Don't get me wrong, Jolie is a star and she is gorgeous, but her performance is thus restricted to be poised and mysterious at all times. It's also not a good thing when she and Depp don't have much chemistry together. Sure, they look great together, but that's about it; not once did I believe their characters would fall in love with each other.
Paul Bettany (Iron Man 2) has some fun playing the smarmy Scotland Yard inspector, but his role is too one-dimensional to leave any real impact. Timothy Dalton (Hot Fuzz) is excellent as the droll chief inspector; Dalton has found his calling as a comedic actor. Veteran British actor Steven Berkoff (Perfect Life) gives a stereotypically menacing performance as the gangster. However, his character is so cliched that even with Berkoff's skillful portrayal, it's tiresome. Rufus Sewell (The Holiday) has a small but pivotal role as a mysterious Englishman.
Written and directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (The Lives of Others) (and co-written by Christopher McQuarrie (Valkyrie) and Julian Fellowes (The Young Victoria)), the screenplay is a throwback to the glossy heist movies of the fifties and sixties (think To Catch a Thief or How to Steal a Million). The story has some interesting twists and misdirections, and dialogue that is more "Hollywood" than real. It is, in general, entertaining. However, the plot is paper-thin and, at 103 minutes, it feels long. Also, there is not enough interaction between the two main characters, and that's a shortcoming for a romantic suspense/thriller. Not to mention I figured out the twist ending from a mile again -- not a good thing.
Donnersmarck also favors slow camerawork and long shots. That's the technique that may have worked for Alfred Hitchcock in the fifties, but here it feels drawn-out. I mean, how often are we going to watch the glamorous Jolie spend two minutes walking across the street, enter a building, or sashay through the major attractions in Venice? There are many dull moments. His languid style may have worked for The Lives of Others (which is a masterpiece), but not here. The glamor and drawn-out action only makes this movie feel pretentious. Granted, the cinematography is beautiful and the Venetian backdrop is gorgeous, but we come for the story and characters, not a tour.
Yes, it's a beautiful film with beautiful stars and beautiful locations. And yes, it has an interesting premise and the old-fashioned storytelling is welcome. But the execution is short of being good, and the result is a drag, unless you're preparing yourself to be a Venice tourist.
Stars: Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, Paul Bettany, Timothy Dalton, Steven Berkoff, Rufus Sewell
Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Writers: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Christopher McQuarrie, Julian Fellowes (based on motion picture Anthony Zimmer written by Jerome Salle)
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence and brief strong language
Running Time: 103 minutes
Script – 6
Performance – 7
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 7
Production – 8
Total – 7.1 out of 10