Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Johnny Depp And Angelina Jolie In The Tourist: A Thriller That Actually Thrills!

The Good: Clever, Decent pacing, Great acting, Moments of character.
The Bad: Obvious to fans of The Usual Suspects, Moments the soundtrack is overbearing.
The Basics: A bit too close to The Usual Suspects with the twist, The Tourist gives Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp a chance to show off their acting skills.

Every now and then, I go into a movie blind. I don't watch any previews, I don't read any reviews and I do not spend any time investigating it in any way beforehand. Because so many opportunities for screenings come to me, knowing nothing about a film in advance is a very rare thing indeed for me. But tonight, as I prepared to take in The Tourist, I relished in the fact that I knew nothing about the movie.

In fact, as I listened to chatter about the film as I waited for the lights to go down, I learned only two things about The Tourist. The first was that this is the latest film written (or co-written) by Christopher McQuarrie. McQuarrie wrote the perfect film The Usual Suspects and that gives him a pretty high street cred with me. In retrospect, I think I would have enjoyed The Tourist more if I had never seen his masterwork. There are too many similarities with this and The Usual Suspects for my liking and it shows a distinctive lack of imagination on McQuarrie's part. The other thing I learned was that The Tourist is opening opposite The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader and I can only presume that the studio is hoping to have a more adult picture to compete with that with. In that regard, The Tourist is a success.

The Tourist is a suspense thriller with a case of mistaken identity and layers to it, but it is a far less subtle work than The Usual Suspects. Even so, it is enjoyable and director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck deserves a lot of credit for getting a very different performance out of Johnny Depp than, say, Tim Burton does. In this, Depp is cool, collected and not at all strange, which makes the argument that he still retains the talent for acting, not just fitting perfectly into typecast roles.

Elise Ward is being followed by a police investigation unit in Paris, led by Acheson. There, she receives a letter from Pearce that instructs her to be on a specific train and to burn the letter. Elise complies and she flees the police to take the train to Venice. On the train, she meets Frank, choosing him - as the letter insisted she do - because of his resemblance is height and stature to Pearce, who has had his body altered with the billions he has stolen from a businessman. But the British police are not fools and before the train arrives, they have recovered enough of the letter to know that they have been set up and Acheson calls off the INTERPOL agents on site.

The failure of Frank to be arrested at that point forces Ward to adapt and she brings Frank back to her hotel, which has accommodations lavishly presented by Pearce. She is also given a directive from Pearce to meet him at a ball two days later. While Ward waits meeting the man she loves, Frank is hunted ruthlessly by the man Pearce took for his billions. Ward's story becomes more complicated, but Frank is put in the crosshairs of the police and the mob, which forces the hands of all involved.

The Tourist is actually astonishingly well-paced and is actually enjoyable. While fans of thrillers might bemoan the attempt on the part of the writers to actually insert character into the movie, it works quite well. Ward is layered and Frank Tupelo is distinct, more so by the fact that he is fairly normal and not at all what one might expect of Johnny Depp these days. But what makes the movie worth seeing at least once is the fact that it is populated by characters who are fairly smart. The police in The Tourist are smart, hard-working and generally clever. They have tools at their disposal and they are equipped to make the tough decision. So, for example, when Acheson makes a call on letting Frank die because he recognizes that Ward has put the agents in a situation where Frank will act, even unwittingly, as a decoy for her, that is impressive. Moreover, the conversation Acheson has with his agents about jurisdiction while Frank is under fire is both realistic and something I've never seen in film before.

The acting in The Tourist is homogeneously wonderful. The film starts as Angelina Jolie's picture, but most of her role in the beginning is posturing. She is cool and collected and what separates Ward from the other vixens Jolie has played is that the viewer can see the wheels constantly turning in her head. We know from the outset that Ward is smart and that she is always looking for an angle. There is no doubt in the mind of the viewer that she is setting Frank up and she does it with a far more subtle use of her sex appeal than is customary when Jolie is cast. As a result, she has an impressive presence.

But from the moment Johnny Depp arrives on screen, the film is his. Depp plays first with just his eyes and he does that masterfully, but not in a way that is off-the-wall or even significant. While watching Frank, one feels like they are watching Frank, not Depp as Frank. The only real exception to this is when Depp is on a Venice rooftop running; there his physical movement is very familiar to those who have seen Johnny Depp in other things. But considering it is only one real slip the whole movie, it is very hard to complain.

The supporting performances are great as well. Paul Bettany gives a performance nothing like his role in Legion (click here for my review of that film!). He is cool, collected and above all smart here. And for his brief time on screen, Timothy Dalton is good as his boss. Sadly, Rufus Sewell's shot early in the movie gives away far too much to seasoned viewers and it makes it very easy to call the end of the movie.

While the film diverges for a strange dance scene and Ward's character is not entirely who she appears, the film works well for the most part.

Ultimately, The Tourist is paced well and is clever, but before too long, I was able to accurately call the end and that left me feeling somewhat disappointed. As well, the soundtrack, which as an abstract is wonderful, is too often intrusive. Even so, this is a fun film on a gut level and the acting is good all the way around. This truly is one of the most adult and interesting films in theaters now.

For other films featuring Johnny Depp, please visit my reviews of:
Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Alice In Wonderland
The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street
Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End
Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Corpse Bride
Charlie And The Chocolate Factory
Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl
Dead Man
Edward Scissorhands


For other film reviews, please check out my index page by clicking here!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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