Director: Florian Henkel von Dommersmarck.
Starring: Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, Paul Bettany
Projects in Hollywood today have often followed a rocky road to the cinema screen, and The Tourist is a fine example of this. A remake of the 2005 French romantic thriller Anthony Zimmer, many directors and stars passed through before the talent that finally signed on to star arrived. Initially Lasse Hallström (Chocolat, The Cider House Rules) was scheduled to direct, then the project was chosen by the German director Florian Kenkel von Dommersmarck as his follow-up to the phenomenal The Lives of Others. Many heavyweights were linked to the central roles - Charlize Theron, Tom Cruise and Sam Worthington were all in the frame at one point. Out of all of this to-ing and fro-ing emerged two of the most bankable names in American cinema, Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, and the result is the film we have here.
Jolie plays Elise, a glamorous English woman who must find a man she can trick into unwittingly posing as her former partner, a criminal wanted by both the authorities and a gangland boss (Stephen Berkoff). She seduces Frank (Johnny Depp), an American tourist travelling alone in Venice after the end of a relationship, in the hope that the watching federal agent (Paul Bettany) and mobsters will believe that he is the fugitive they are looking for. The plan works, and Frank finds his unbelievable holiday romance tranforming into a serious case of mistaken identity, as he's confused with one of the most wanted men in the world. As he tries to find out why Elise deceived him, the pair attempt to evade capture, and in the process learn they are merely part of a bigger plot unfolding.
It all sounds too good to be true - action, romance, and two of the most recognisable faces in the world. However, as is so often the case, the end product does not live up to the promise. The charisma of the leads carries a lot of the film. One thing that Depp has certainly never been (pirate swashbuckling aside) is a traditional action star. Luckily, here he is more swept up in the action than instigating it, and manages to play Frank as out of his depth (both with Elise and his subsequent predicament) without coming across as bumbling.
Jolie has done variations of this type of role many times in the past - one could definitely say there's a hint of her character from Wanted combined with perhaps her assassin role in Mr and Mrs Smith. In that sense it's more of the same, but she combines well with Depp and together they make for interesting viewing. Bettany has little to do but look very intense and shout instructions, but the presence of the thespian Berkoff and an appearance from the former James Bond Timothy Dalton are both rare treats. Clever lines from a script penned by both The Young Victoria writer Julian Fellowes (who presumably provided the wit) and the Bryan Singer collaborator Christopher McQuarrie (who provided the thrills) also help proceedings.
The aesthetics are absolutely stunning, as you would expect from a film that was shot on location in Venice and Paris, and the director captures the glamour and atmosphere of the cities very well.
It is when we get to the plot that something that could have been special becomes merely familiar. Sadly, for a film that primes the audience to expect the unexpected, the plot twists all turn out to be rather, well, predictable. While well-executed, it feels like so many polished, by-the-numbers thrillers that have gone before it. That said, the comedy does lift proceedings. Thankfully, in this respect the film chooses to lean towards James Cameron's True Lies rather than take the well-trodden Bourne-lite route that so many modern thrillers embark on.
Overall an interesting and at times very gripping film, but one that perhaps could have done with taking a few more risks with its plot. One can't help but suspect that the high-profile leads meant the original vision went in a more "audience-friendly" direction, which is a shame as such a cast (and director) could have provided the basis for something really special.