Movie Review: The Tourist
North by Northwest. . . Not Exactly
A Film Review of The Tourist
By: Lawrence Napoli
A relatively dim American being confused for someone else, a mysterious rendezvous with an exotic woman on a train, being chased by an unknown cabal of deadly thugs: does any of this sound familiar to you? Well if you happen to have good taste in movies then the answer should be a resounding yes seeing how you would have already treated yourself to one of Alfred Hitchcock’s best thrillers, North by Northwest (1959). I’m not going to lie, with the exception of this story taking place in Venice, The Tourist is a carbon copy of NBN and I fail to understand what drew such alpha talent the likes of Jolie and Depp out of their busy schedules to agree to involve themselves with such a production. I’m certain getting paid to simply be in Venice had a lot to do with it. Regardless, this film is a nice little action thriller that despite having misplaced much of its “thrill,” provides excellent shots of this alluring city as well as enough moments of vintage Johnny Depp levity to make this an amusing date/family cinematic fling.
I was simply astounded with the quantity of similarities that this film had with NBN that I instantly thought this was the work of a novice screenwriter/director. They say the best ideas are always stolen, right? Writer/director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (no, I did not make that up) is not nearly as accomplished as a creative lead for a film production than he is as a linguist (imdb.com lists his language fluency to include German, English, Italian, French and Russian). Recent history has shown us that non-American filmmakers only need to produce one domestic film that attains some significant level of critical success through the Indy film circuit (like Cannes or Sundance) in order to be scouted by wealthy American studios to save major bucks on the front end investment of the next production. Florian has basically ridden the wave of critical success that he has garnered through his German film, The Lives of Others (2006). What blew my mind into kibble was the fact that Florian co-wrote the screenplay of The Tourist with a new-classic blast from the past: Christopher McQuarrie. You’ll remember him as the man who wrote an insanely popular, entertaining and successful film called The Usual Suspects (1995) as well as the less than polished Valkyrie (2008). It is unfortunate that the author of a story as unique as The Usual Suspects continues to step towards an official “one hit wonder,” but McQuarrie takes a giant leap forward with his efforts here. I suppose I should be grateful that they attempted something slightly different as opposed to whipping up an outright remake. I reiterate that the story of The Tourist was indeed entertaining and nice, but so was my ex-girlfriend before she turned into a *unt! An intelligent audience will have no problems seeing where this tale ends up, but this kind of film is banking on an audience’s ignorance of Hitchcock.
Budgeted at around $100 million, most of the production value is noticeable in The Tourist’s various posh settings both exterior and interior. Clearly, these locales were not constructed on a sound stage and it is in the beautiful way that the architecture is photographed that breathes life into the city of Venice. Of course, segmenting parts of any city to create a controlled environment for filming is a considerable expense, (just ask Michael Bay) but I am uncertain if the scenery’s shear beauty alone was worth the price of admission. I presume that booking several if not all of these places in Italy and France required a hefty amount of green; perhaps even the lion’s share of the budget? Therefore I give much recognition to co-executive producers Ron Halpern and Lloyd Phillips for dealing with the socio-politico complexities of securing densely populated European areas and to cinematographer John Seale for capturing as much of the setting as the lens can reveal, but what would have been really nice is if this film did not boil down to a travelogue at its base level. Scenery is a major contributing factor in making motion pictures visually dynamic, but beautiful scenery is just one element of film and if people wanted to see beauty for beauty’s sake, I recommend a Monet exhibit.
Before I launch into the performances by the actors, let’s have a brief review of how this film almost didn’t even happen. This started out as a Tom Cruise venture and he was replaced by Sam Worthington (reason omitted, although I’m thinking Avatar and Clash of the Titans had something to do with it). Curiously, Worthington takes a powder over “creative differences” which could mean one of several reasons: salary, screen time, overall time commitment or the entire production just happened to be a steaming pile. In the end, the production replaced the male lead with Johnny Depp, an actor of superior quality and résumé which, to the untrained eye, looks like an incredible stroke of good fortune, the likes of which could save any film lingering in production limbo. Not necessarily so seeing how the lead female role was also earmarked for Charlize Theron, before being replaced by Jolie who admitted to Vogue Magazine that she only did this film as a well paid convenience to herself. But the fun doesn’t end there as nobody appeared to be too thrilled with sitting in the director’s chair having originally been set for Lasse Hallström who jumped ship over scheduling conflicts, replaced by Bharat Nalluri who balked at the production’s overall lack of leadership and focus, who was eventually replaced by Florian Donnersmarck who himself bailed on the production once over “creative differences,” but came back after Jolie got involved. Whew! If that isn’t the definition of “cluster-*uck” then I would invite any of you to please educate me.
As for those performances, you can count no single one as memorable. Sure Depp and Jolie looked sexy onscreen, but they weren’t sexy themselves. Paul Bettany plays the usual “cop as villain” role in his reliably, but unsurprisingly smarmy fashion. Timothy Dalton shows up for a few laughs but is thankfully shelved for most of the film. Angelina should heed my warning now: even she cannot “mail in” a performance and not be called out for it. And rightly so because the level of chemistry she cooked up with Depp was about as warm as nuclear winter. As for Depp, his sole saving grace was his excellent sense of comedic timing concerning a constant confusion of Europe’s romance languages. Beyond that, he really didn’t seem all that interested and his character suffered for it. In the end, everyone on set knew what this was, they looked each other in the eyes and then to the ground and kept telling themselves: “This is a paycheck!”
Needless to say, but The Tourist is one of those films that should have remained in the nether void of “never was.” A film production is like an adopted child: if no one truly believes in it, it will be lost to the formalities of “the system.” That is exactly what happened here. Everyone goes through the motions enough to make this worthy of a theatrical release. There’s enough glitz and glam to dazzle the extremely casual movie-goer as well as the most rabid fan that follows either Depp or Jolie. However, no amount of make-up will make Meg Griffin attractive, as such, no quantity of visual decadence will ever give a film heart if it had none to begin with.