MacGuffin Film Review – The Tourist

Film Review – The Tourist

Man, beautiful people get to have all the fun, especially if they are wealthy beautiful people.  They get to wear the best looking clothes, they get to go to the most beautiful places on earth, stay at the trendiest hotels, and eat the best kind of food.  It’s not classy enough to just drink champagne, but rather they sip champagne.  They hang out on trains that ride out along the countryside and wear fine jewelry that’s worth as much as a home in the suburbs.  They get what they want when they want it, all while having a good time.  Now, it’s said that good looks and money can’t buy you happiness, and that is true, but at the very least you can afford to pretend that you can!

The Tourist (2010) is a film that features two of the wealthiest and most beautiful actors on the planet, Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp.  Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, who previously directed The Lives of Others (2006), makes a complete u-turn in material here.  At the heart of it, the film is a love story, but for good measure the filmmakers threw that love story in the middle of an espionage action film, set in one of the beautiful cities in the world, Venice.  You can see quite clearly that beautiful is the key word of this review.  While watching the film, I kept thinking that in many ways, it’s an homage to movies made way back in the day, where two movie superstars got together, dressed in stylish outfits, and had a good old time while amongst their gorgeous surroundings.  This is a movie that Cary Grant would have starred in during his heyday, and very early on I noticed the parallels to one of Grant’s great movies, Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959).

The premise of this film is damn near identical to Hitchcock’s classic, to the point where I was pretty sure it wasn’t just a coincidence.  Depp stars as Frank Tupelo, an American math teacher traveling in Europe while on vacation.  During a short trip on a train, he meets an attractive British woman named Elise (Angelina Jolie).  They meet, talk, flirt, and have dinner.  Does this remind you of anything?  If you said that it mirrors the scene where Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint meet in previously said film, then you would be correct.  You would also be correct in saying that both the women in each film are more than what they are letting on to their men.  Here, Elise is revealed to be a kind of “secret agent.”  Both British authorities and the thugs of a dangerous gangster are pursuing her, in hopes of finding her former lover, Alexander Pearce.

But the connections between the two films don’t just end with that beginning scene on the train.  Just as Cary Grant’s identity is mistaken for George Kaplan, Frank is brought in to the picture by Elise, with his identity mistaken for that of Pearce.  However, as she and Frank’s romance inevitably blossom, Elise finds herself caught between the orders she needs to carry out and the emotions she’s beginning to feel for this person.  Frank, on the other side of the coin, soon finds himself in the middle of a chase that he wasn’t expecting, with both groups hot on his tail.  This leads to some of the funnier scenes of the film, as Frank tries to come to grips with a situation that he has no clue about.  We see him running across rooftops, jumping off of high rises, and fighting against Russians.  It seems as if Frank does the things he does in the movie not because it’s logical, but because that is how he thinks someone in his position would act.  He buys a white, dapper coat like James Bond, he smokes a fake cigarette, he dances with Elise in the middle of a crowded ballroom, it’s like he’s pretending to be one of the characters he reads about in his spy novels.

The main highlight of the film is obviously its two main stars, and both Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie light up the screen not just with their looks, but with their chemistry as well.  Jolie more than makes up for her previous effort, that horrible excuse of a movie, Salt (2010).  Here she plays Elise with sophistication, poise, and elegance, she very rarely is seen without wearing the most fashionable dresses, with her hair perfectly kept, her smile lighting up the room.  It’s almost intimidating just how beautiful she looks here, and we’re surprised that a character like this is at the same time cunning and dangerous, which makes it more engaging when she is faced with her emotional dilemma.  Depp brings his off beat quirkiness to this role.  When I first learned that he was going to be in this film, I had my doubts, but I quickly realized that this is a role only he could bring to life.  His lovable goofiness throughout the movie is magnetic, and we find ourselves anticipating what he’ll come up with next.  Who else but Depp would run across Venetian rooftops barefoot and in his pajamas?

Where the film fails is in the structure of its plot.  Like mentioned earlier, the film is very much a retread of the Hitchcock movie, almost step by step, with its mistaken identities, female secret agents, and its double crosses, but structured not nearly as tightly.  There’s even a point where Frank, trying to understand his predicament, asks “Is it about microfilm?  It’s almost always about microfilm.”  Talk about a subtle reference.  Characters, events, and situations are connected, with twists and turns that seem like they work together, but when thinking about it in hindsight, don’t gel as well as first perceived.  I’m being intentionally vague here, because there is one really big twist that actually caught me off guard, but after thinking about the events that happened prior to its reveal, I realized that it would take a major leap of faith to believe that it would work out the way it did.  No way the events that happened here would unfold in the real world, but I guess that’s why they call them “movies.”

In the end, I found myself ignoring the impossibilities of the plot twists, and instead sat back and enjoyed the beautiful eye candy in front of me.  You have beautiful people doing cool stuff in beautiful environments, if you’re in to that sort of thing, then this movie is for you.  Like a similar film, Knight and Day (2010), the biggest accomplishment that this movie achieved was its ability to not take itself too seriously.  When everyone involved had a good time making a movie, and realize that what they are making is pure, entertaining farce, we almost welcome the silliness of it all.  Besides, who cares if all the pieces don’t fit together perfectly?  How can you possibly hate on something that looks so darn good on screen?

Final Grade: B

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