Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, a big subway sandwich of a name, has become a major player in world cinema following his film The Lives of Others, an excellent drama on humanity in the face of Cold-War paranoia in the 1980's. One almost forgets he directs this though when seeing The Tourist. Maybe it's because, frankly, anyone by the look of it could have directed it. It's possible there wasn't a really distinct style in Lives of Others anyway, that he just made a good movie with a solid story that was professional if artful. This time he's making a remake of a French film starring two of the biggest heavyweight-command- 20+-million stars, Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp (stars so major they could be referred to almost by first name), and it's a breezy affair. So breezy that it tries, somewhat admirably, to hearken back to the 1940's and 1950's star-vehicle spy thrillers that Hitchcock might make. 'Might' being the operative word here. He'd have a little more fun with the same material.
Two meet on a train, a woman and a man, the woman after getting a letter from her (at the start we think) lover Alexandre, who says to meet a man on a train to make "them" (the Inter-Pol or whomever following her to get to the international criminal Alexandre) think it's him. Enter in Johnny Depp's Frank, smoking a not-real cigarette and reading a spy novel, a Math professor 'Tourist' (everyone who wants to make him sound less important just uses that last word and moves along), and then they get into some shenanigans. That is he does as a group of gangsters looking to get the umpteenth millions that is owed to them by this Alexandre person. But where is the "real" one? Where and when will he pop up in this glorious Venice backdrop.
Why go on further about the story except to say that there are two twists in the film? Well, at the least I can tell you that I saw one twist coming, the bigger one, almost from the start of the film. It was a suspicion only, nothing more, though one that became clearer as it went along. When it's revealed I was almost disappointed there was not more to it, like a "oh, yeah, whatever". The smaller twist escaped me until it was revealed, though a slighter suspicion was held. I keep thinking about the potential twists in these spy thriller-things. Not as a means of really being drawn in by the story, but because of the cynicism built up over the years. If it were Hitchcock, to bring up his name, trekking with Cary Grant and/or whatever-blonde-star, that thought wouldn't cross my mind. This is a deterrent in a way, as it shows a lack of focus with the story itself. But it does make things a little more fun, just to figure when "it" will reveal itself.
Oh, the stars? They do alright, more or less. We feel comfortable with these stars, who are first actors, and Jolie is certainly very fit for a role like this where she has to look sexy, confident, and sometimes lethal. She's like a second-tier version of her super-bad-ass in Salt (a real pretzel of a movie from this same year), but is fun to see with her gorgeous dresses and wide-saucer eyes. Depp is a little trickier to peg; it's not until halfway into the movie that I could figure on why he took on this project. One doesn't see him play these "ordinary" people too often, but then again it's part of the charm to see him acting all normal and quietly befuddled at the good strokes of luck of a woman as Ravenous (sorry, nay, Ravishing) as Jolie is, and then getting the fabulous digs he gets in Venice with her, and out to dinner no less. Their banter is good, if only in their delivery if not always the words, and the double-meaning of what might be going on kept me not always bored.
The Tourist, as you could guess from my reaction, is pretty to watch and not too hard to think about. It doesn't offend with any super- pyrotechnics; it's innocent about its action through most of the time, even with its BIG villain who does older-than-old (or just revitalized?) clichés like killing the subordinate who screws up. But it doesn't go past its own basic strokes; supporting characters are passable like Dalton and Betany, but don't add much character to their characters either. Suspense builds intermittently, and then stops short when one sees where scenes are definitely headed. And the twist... it's silly, and it will tick a lot of people off. For me it went through the rest of the movie. It's a minor work of intended escapism by a filmmaker who should, and hopefully will, be doing better.