Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Screenplay by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Christopher McQuarrie, and Julian Fellowes
Johnny Depp as Frank Tupelo
Angelina Jolie as Elise Clifton-Ward
Paul Bettany as Inspector John Acheson
Timothy Dalton as Chief Inspector Jones
Running time: 103 minutes
Motion Picture Rating: Rated PG-13 for violence and brief strong language.
‘The Tourist’ is a great film to visit, but it’s so damned entertaining that we’d rather live there.
There are those who would call the new Johnny Depp and Angelina movie The Tourist a ‘sexy’ movie. I respectfully disagree. After spending 103 minutes with Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s alluring new spy caper I’m pretty sure that this movie qualifies as actual sex. And what great sex it is! Beautiful, giggly, romantic and full of passion… this is as close to cinematic rapture as I’ve experienced in a very long time. You’ll probably collapse into a heap afterwards and wish that theaters still allowed you to smoke in them. The Tourist is so coital that it should probably come with a free pack.
Or at least one of those electronic smoke-free cigarettes with a fake light at the end. That’s what Frank Tupelo smokes, and as lame as that is he’s played by Johnny Depp so we love him for it. Frank’s a hapless math teacher visiting Europe who finds himself seduced by Elise Clifton-Ward, a ravishing bombshell played perfectly by Angelina Jolie. Actually, she doesn’t seduce Frank… she teaches him how to seduce her. There’s some remarkably witty writing here from screenwriters von Donnersmarck (The Lives of Others), Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) and Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park). “You look ravenous” Frank says. “You mean ravishing,” she replies. “You’re ravenous.” Who wouldn’t be? The only way these two stars could be more succulent is if von Donnersmarck dipped them both in chocolate.
But it’s a movie, not a photo spread, so the plot – which never gets so twisty-turny that it leaves the audience behind, thank heavens – sometimes takes the lead. Luckily it’s a great little plot. Elise is the lover of an international criminal who embezzled over $2 billion from international gangster Reginald Shaw (Steven Berkoff of A Clockwork Orange). British intelligence has been following her for years waiting for their target to show his face. He’s undergone extensive plastic surgery, you see, so nobody knows what he looks like anymore. So when Elise meets Frank on the train from Paris to Venice, and sees that Frank looks an awful lot like her real lover, she uses him as a cover. Before long all the wrong people think Frank is an international criminal with the international box office take of James Cameron’s Avatar stashed away somewhere along the canals. They want Frank dead almost as much as Frank wants Elise, and apparently that’s the perfect recipe for excitement.
Mistaken identity stories have been done to death, but rarely this well. Jolie plays a quasi-femme fatale, but she plays her with enough of a heart that she could plausibly fall in love with the world’s most spectacular doof. Meanwhile Johnny Depp plays the world’s spectacular doof, which used to be his strong suit, but ever since he became a legitimate star we almost never hear him stammer anymore. Depp is a fabulously atypical hero, the kind we haven’t seen since the heyday of Cary Grant and Robert Donat. Charming but never suave, always saying the wrong thing in just the perfect way. Frank has this adorable way of speaking Spanish to Italians, forgetting in all the excitement that it’s actually a whole other language. It’s nice to see a protagonist who is fully capable of moving the plot forward without actually being James Frakking Bond. Or The Transporter.
More than that, it’s nice to see a movie in which none of the characters are absolute morons. This is common in movies about mistaken identity, since really anybody who actually knew a damned thing about espionage would have the wherewithal to actually check Frank’s actual identity. The exceptional script – and I mean really exceptional, not just very good – finds a way to put Frank through all the exciting escapades a spy thriller’s supposed to boast without ever checking anyone’s brains at the door. From a memorable boat chase down the canals to a daring rooftop escape, Depp is game for anything even though Frank would clearly rather have none of it. And that makes for some wonderful and funny thrills.
But back to that sex: The Tourist is as PG-13 kinky as it gets. No nudity, no intercourse to speak of, just aphrodisiacs in the form of the most luscious locales in the world, the most attractive two people in the world, and some of the most alluring costumes imaginable courtesy of costume designer Colleen Atwood. (Many actresses have a clause in their contracts that states they can keep their wardrobe. For Angelina Jolie, this could be one of the sweetest signing bonuses in movie history.) This is sumptuous filmmaking courtesy of Florian Henckel von Dammersmarck. His previous film, the Academy Award-winning The Lives of Others, was a much darker tale of conspiracies and subterfuge. It was a note-perfect film, but barely a distant cousin to this fun-loving lark of a movie. Two feature films, two four star accomplishments. There should be an honorary Oscar for this kind of thing.
The Tourist is the kind of cinematic perfection that doesn’t get lauded too often. It’s too cute, too fun, too thrilling to sit on a top ten list next to 127 Hours or Black Swan. At least, that’s what the philistines will say. Just because it’s a caper doesn’t mean it’s capricious. This is assured, skillful and altogether spectacular filmmaking. We all know that studios usually save their best movies for the end of the year. This year they also saved the most entertaining. Fortunately, The Tourist is both.