Words: Ced Yuen
'The Tourist' (UK Release: 10 Dec '10)
Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp, Paul Bettany, Steven Berkoff, Timothy Dalton
In 2005, Jérôme Salle wrote and directed the César-nominated 'Anthony Zimmer', a Hitchcockian story about a tourist who meets a mysterious woman and finds himself in “a whirlwind of intrigue and danger”. 'The Tourist' is a remake of that film, with the director of 'The Lives Of Others', the screenwriter of 'The Usual Suspects', and the cinematographer of 'The English Patient'. It is also the first ever pairing of megastars Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp. This has everything it takes to make one amazing film, yet it is one of 2010's biggest misfires.
This film desperately wants to be compared to the likes of 'North By Northwest' and 'The Man Who Knew Too Much'. Indeed, it ticks many of the boxes required for a classic 'wrong man' story. An innocent person accused, exotic backdrops, a series of strange and dangerous situations – check, check, check. However, there is a fine line between following in someone's footsteps and being stuck in their shadow.
Director von Donnersmarck tries to capture the style of the late '50s/early '60s thrillers, but fails to replicate their substance. Given the narrative strength of 'The Lives Of Others', one might expect a similar level of focus. Sadly, he doesn't know what kind of story he's trying to tell. There is not enough intrigue to be a thriller; not enough on wit to be a comedy. There is not enough story to be a drama, and what little story there is doesn't make much sense. Spanning several genres is not the problem – Stanley Donan mixed suspense with comedy and romance to great effect in 'Charade' – the director simply isn't as capable.
The next mis-step was the casting. Jolie and Depp perform just fine in isolation, but as a duo they don't work well. Their chemistry is barely noticeable, and the inevitable romance feels forced. Perhaps their combined mega-wattage is counter-productive - in their own films, Jolie and Depp are at ease taking centre stage, but thrust together and forced to share the spotlight, they seem uneasy. The focus switches clumsily between the two, trying to give each actor equal screen-time.
It is never clear who we're meant to follow, so there is never a clear protagonist. It doesn't help that the characters are inappropriate for the actors. Depp's character is meant to be a bland everyman, which doesn't work because Depp himself is too colourful. Forced to play it straight without his usual eccentricities, Depp seems bored. Jolie's character is her most one-dimensional to date. There is a vague attempt at fleshing out her backstory, but there is more attention on her wardrobe and her strut than on her motivation. As a result, Jolie seems like she's on holiday.
Visually, the film is like one big promotional video for Venice. It is just too presentable. Venice might be beautiful, but it has never looked this good. Everything is squeaky clean, every single person is impeccably dressed in expensive suits and dresses. After a ridiculous number of sweeping shots of the city, it is abundantly clear that this is Venice as Hollywood imagines it to be. Showing off glamour is fine, but when a film is so stylish that it distracts, something isn't right.
The Hitchcockian premise of 'Anthony Zimmer' was definitely ripe for the remaking process that Hollywood so loves. The recent 'Let Me In' demonstrates that the Hollywoodisation of foreign films doesn't always have to be an embarrassment. 'The Tourist' is not terrible, but it is far from great. It had the potential to be something special. What a pity, then, that it is so very ordinary.
'The Tourist' is in cinemas throughout the UK now, and was recently nominated for three Golden Globe awards.