There aren’t that many actors or actresses that could fit in during the old, “glory” days of Hollywood past; it’s hard to replicate the sort of glamour we see from footage of years gone by in a world where most movie stars dominate tabloid television shows and gossip websites. Angelina Jolie reigns as her generation’s only female action star, able to headline an action thriller in the same way Will Smith, Tom Cruise, et al, are able to do, that it’s easy to forget that she can doll it up on occasion. She has been an action headliner for long enough time that we forget that she can be her generation’s Grace Kelly if the occasion suits her. It’s just a shame that it gets wasted in a pedestrian effort like The Tourist, one of the best looking films of the year.
A remake of the French film Anthony Zimmer (albeit very loosely in parts) the film follows Elise (Jolie) as she tries to reunite with Alexander Pearce, the love of her life and a criminal wanted in 14 countries. The police and the mob both want his head on a platter, mainly dealing with the $2 billion he stole from the latter and the taxes he didn’t pay to the former, but as soon as he surfaces he’ll be either in prison or dead. His face is unknown to everyone, the rumored result of millions in plastic surgery, so Elise remains the only one with a connection to him. So he invents a rather ingenious plan to get everything he wants. Elise is to travel to Venice and find someone who is built similarly to him, making him the target of both the cops and the crooks.
Enter Frank (Johnny Depp), a school teacher from Wisconsin on holiday. He’s a bit of a doofus but he immediately takes to Elise and the trap is set. He follows her, immediately taken by her presence and her beauty. Marking him as Pearce he’s pursued by both the cops and the crooks as the result of a late night kiss; the film follows Frank as he has to avoid dealing with both the police and the mob. They all want something from him and he wants nothing to do with them but he wants everything to do with Elise.
For his English language debut, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck picked an absolutely beautiful setting with some stunning cinematography to match. Venice is a beautiful city, and seemingly there isn’t an ugly part to Italy in cinema, and The Tourist is stunning to watch. This is one of the best looking and best lensed films of the year, giving it a glamorous feel. Donnersmarck is going for a more traditional look as opposed to a more contemporary one. This is a film that wouldn’t be out of place 40 years ago in terms of style, but it just doesn’t work because there’s no real chemistry between Jolie and Depp.
It’s kind of a shock that there isn’t a palpable chemistry between the two, who hadn’t worked together until this film, as the film (and the one it was remade off of) hinge on that sort of chemistry. This is a film like Mr. and Mrs. Smith (with Jolie and Brad Pitt) that demands a sort of red-hot, fiery chemistry between its two leads. We need a reason why Frank would pursue a woman like Elise, even after discovering he’s been set up, and a reason behind why she’d risk her own life for him. That has to be that there is something between them that you can feel and almost touch; it isn’t there. But it’s not for a lack of effort from Jolie or Depp, oddly enough.
Adopting a nearly flawless British accent, Jolie has the sort of glamour that the film needs. Everything she wears, and how she wears it, gives her a timeless look that demands your attention. This is the sort of role Hitchcock would’ve used Grace Kelly for a generation ago and Jolie is up for the task. Leaving her dramatic acting chops at home, she’s perfectly comfortable in a remarkably ridiculous setup. Donnersmarck acknowledges this, seemingly, in how he lenses her. He demands attention to her every time she’s on screen in a way screen sirens of the past had the camera on them; von Donnersmarck knows this is a film that’s much more about style than substance and ramps it up around his female lead. Jolie may command the camera with her presence on the silver screen and von Donnersmarck is more than willing to give it to her.
Depp has a tougher time as Frank; he has to tone down his natural presence and charisma into a much less confident man than he normally plays. He’s an average guy on vacation that turns into a fall guy, and then into something a bit more as he reaches inside to pursue Elise, this is a bit different from most of his roles in that there isn’t a lot of glamour to it for him. He’s trying to pull off a Cary Grant style of role ala North by Northwest with admirable results. It takes a lot for an actor who normally is a charming ladykiller-type to be a bit of a putz on occasion.
The just don’t click in the way the film needs them to, which is the film’s ultimate failing. The Tourist has everything else a romantic action thriller needs to succeed, including a Deus Ex Machina to wrap things up neatly in a bow, but the intense chemistry needed between its two leads just isn’t there.
Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck Notable Cast: Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp, Paul Bettany, Timothy Dalton, Rufus Sewell Writer(s): Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Christopher McQuarrie and Julian Fellowes based off Jerome Salle’s screenplay to “Anthony Zimmer”
Scott Sawitz is an Inside Pulse original. He's also been featured on The Ultimate Fighter.com, Fox Sports.com, Nerdcore Movement.com, CagePotato.com, Inside Fights.com and Film Arcade.net (among others). When Scott isn't writing about film he's making his own. Check out Drunk Justice Productions right here.