The Tourist | Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck | Score: 5.2
Just how many times has Angelina Jolie been referred to as “the target” in her films? For an Academy Award winning actress, she certainly seems content to play out an endless string of unstoppable assassin-type roles. With her almost cartoonish beauty — all absurdly swollen lips and verdant eye lashes — and her perpetual knowing smile, as if its all too painfully obvious how well everything will turn out for her, her character work can easily become an afterthought. Fortunately for her, in Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s puffball of a spy thriller, she’s not required to do much more than wear that grating smile along with a giant wardrobe of fabulously expensive clothes and cavort around Western Europe enjoying the best of everything.
She plays Elise Clifton-Ward, a wealthy woman with a possibly criminal past, whose vanished boyfriend, Alexander Pierce, remains a most-wanted fugitive by Scotland Yard for stealing an enormous sum of money, from, among others, a very well-connected criminal (Steven Berkhoff), who has a penchant for killing anyone who comes anywhere close to crossing him. With her every move being observed by British authorities, lead by the impulsive Acheson (Paul Bettany), Ward receives a note from her lost lover while in Paris, asking her to head to Vienna by train and, on the trip, find someone of roughly his build with whom she can fool the authorities into thinking is him after his rumored facial reconstruction surgery. The mark she finds for this task is a lonely schoolteacher from Wisconsin, Frank Tupelo (Johnny Depp), whose wife has died and is looking — presumably — to drown his sorrows in the beauty of Italy. Naturally, Frank falls instantly for this ravishingly beautiful woman who seems to have stepped right out one of his spy novels, but before he knows it, he’s being chased and shot at by Russian thugs and sold out by Italian authorities.
The film moves quickly enough, enjoying its gorgeous surroundings, but as the plot groans on and the implausibilities pile on, it becomes increasingly difficult to appreciate it for what it does have: two of the biggest movie stars in the world cavorting in the world’s most beautiful cities. It didn’t work in this summer’s dreadful Knight & Day, and it certainly doesn’t work here, but for slightly different reasons. The film has every reason to remain coy about its main characters, you see, but in the process of setting up its (easily deduced) ‘twist’ ending, it robs its actors of having a chance to really embellish their roles. Depp can be one of our most gifted character actors when he’s given a character to display, but when he has to produce a basic everyman, his energy fades and he becomes just another pretty piece of scenery, like a Testarosa being forced to follow the 35 m.p.h. speed limit. Jolie, for all her looks and glamour, never bothers to dig any deeper into Elise than she has to, happy to let her elaborate make up and wardrobe do the work for her. “Women don’t like questions,” she tells Frank shortly after they first meet. Apparently, they don’t care to read the screenplays before accepting their roles, either.
Piers Marchant is a Philly-based writer and editor, and the EIC (and film critic) for two.one.five magazine (215mag.com). His reviews can be found on 215mag.com and his tumblr blog, Sweet Smell of Success. You can also follow him on twitter @kafkaesque83.
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