Movie Review: The Tourist

By Matthew Huntley

December 23, 2010

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The Tourist is a misguided mess. Like its two main characters, it lacks a clear identity, but unlike its two main characters, this wasn’t deliberate. The movie wants us to question a lot of things, including who its people are and their true motives, but I doubt it wanted us to question why we’re watching the movie, which is what we find ourselves doing about a third of the way in. It’s a great looking movie and was clearly photographed by a professional, but somehow it felt like it was directed by an amateur and director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck is no novice when it comes to making movies. He made the exceptional The Lives of Others, but here, working with two of Hollywood’s most glamorous and gifted talents, you’d think this was his first time behind the camera.

The movie stars Angelina Jolie as an elusive British woman named Elise. From the beginning, she’s being tailed by Scotland Yard for evidently breaking international law. Either that or she’s just about to. In Paris, wearing a skirt, high heels and gloves, she walks gracefully down the street to her usual café and receives a letter from a man named Alexander Pearce. She burns the letter but enough of it remains for Inspector Acheson (Paul Bettany) to make out that she’s planning to meet Pearce, a wanted criminal, on the 8:22 train to Venice. The letter also instructed her to find someone who looks like Pearce and become friendly with him in an attempt and throw off the police.

On the train, Elise eyes Frank (Johnny Depp), a math teacher from Madison, Wisconsin who’s on vacation. She throws him a line, he bites, and he’s immediately smitten by her class and beauty. What pans out is a convoluted romantic thriller that’s sometimes boring, sometimes slow, but at no point romantic or thrilling. The movie doesn’t seem to have a clue about what it wants to be and so it ends up really being nothing at all. It tries to be taut and comical but somehow its elements just don’t mix.


There are some standard chase scenes and shootouts, which eventually lead to a showdown with a Russian gangster (Steven Berkoff), but there’s not a whole lot of intrigue. The filmmakers are under the impression we’re craving answers, but we feel so detached from the characters and their situation, and the movie has given us little reason to care about them, we find ourselves simply waiting it out. After a while, we could take or leave whether the plot resolves itself because, frankly, we’re no longer interested.

What’s more interesting than the movie is how all the talents involved failed to see it was going nowhere during production. Yes, Jolie is one of the sexiest women in the movies, and she’s set a new standard for strutting on camera; and yes, Depp is charming, droll and absent-minded in the way only Johnny Depp can be; but at some point, Jolie, Depp or von Donnersmarck must have known things weren’t gelling. I don’t know exactly why that is, but I can tell you the two leads have no chemistry. The reason, I think, is because they seem to be playing off each other as Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, and not as Elise and Frank. The actors and director probably thought their celebrity was enough to carry the film instead of having them fully embody their characters, which never quite happens. Sure, their celebrity will be the reason people see The Tourist, but it won’t be the reason they enjoy it. No matter how popular a cast, we still want them to act, and it’s even better when it’s in a competent story.

It was easy to tell something was amiss with The Tourist early on, but it was most obvious when Elise and Frank find themselves in the middle of a ball and are forced to start dancing with each other. At this moment, there’s no mystery, giddiness, sensuality or dynamism taking place on-screen. In fact, there’s no fun being had at all, and this is the one point in the movie where it should have been the most seductive and alluring. If the movie had gotten this scene right, it’s likely everything that happened before and after it would have also fallen into place. But it didn’t. Everything about The Tourist just feels off.



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