After seeing this movie about spies, lies, and marriage, Appellate Judge James A. Stewart is glad the beautiful woman he used as a cover for getting out of Bogota ran off at the first flash of lightning.
Our review of Mr. And Mrs. Smith: Unrated Two-Disc Collector's Edition, published June 19th, 2006, is also available.
"You have no idea who I am. You have no idea what I'm capable of."
"Back at ya, baby."
In an unrelated 1941 movie with the same title, Alfred Hitchcock took a marital dispute to ridiculous consequences. In 2005's Mr. and Mrs. Smith, director Doug Liman adds explosions and twirling knives to create a mix that makes Hitchcock's squabbling Smiths look low-key by comparison.
Facts of the Case
"This is like a checkup for us," Brad Pitt, as Mr. Smith, tells an unseen marriage counselor in the opening to Mr. and Mrs. Smith before opening his marriage wide for the professional…leaving out the parts involving explosions and assassinations, of course.
The revelations start with a flashback to when John and Jane first met, in Bogota, Colombia several years earlier. Discovering that the authorities are seeking lone tourists, spy John Smith looks around quickly and hooks up with the lovely Jane when he notices that she's being hounded by police. Of course, John forgets the rule that you should always check for weapon sheaths when you're asking a woman out. After a toast to "dodging bullets," they share a passionate evening on the dance floor, even sharing a bottle, illuminated by flashes of lightning. Their passionate start didn't, alas, result in a passionate marriage. By now, Jane's passions seem to run more toward her new curtains, a passion John doesn't share:
"If you don't like them, we can take them back," she tells him.
"I don't like them."
"You'll get used to them."
This scene comes back at ya later, when John's apparent last words to Jane are, "The new curtains are hideous."
She believes he's a contractor; he believes she runs a tech firm. What they don't know about each other is that they're both spies and assassins. Parallel action scenes set this up, with John going to a poker game that turns deadly while Jane gets rough questioning a suspected arms dealer. (Alex Trebek is in the background on TV, delivering questions with his brand of Jeopardy, less nasty except when he drools over the prospect of a new Ken Jennings on the horizon.) A mutual assignment finds the pair firing at each other at a lonely desert outpost, each unaware of the identities of their targets and investigating when they get home. John finds the answer first; soon the romance has been gunned down completely and replaced with a literally explosive marital crisis.
Mr. and Mrs. Smith plays out its one joke with a single-minded unity that considers every permutation of its theme: the spies' rivalry when assigned to eliminate each other as a metaphor for relentless destructive tendencies in a marital dispute.
The movie puts the focus squarely on Jolie and Pitt, and gives them a chance to show comic timing along with their combat skills. Jolie's comic one-upmanship is showcased early in a scene in which the future Smiths visit a street festival on a date. Shooting wooden ducks with an air pistol, Jane at first pretends to be inept, but after John proves adept and claims "beginner's luck," redoes her shots as perfectly as his. After John learns of his wife's secret, Pitt's reactions at the dinner table, as he wonders whether the wine is poisoned or whether Jane plans to carve him instead of the fowl feast, are subtle and excellent, as is the action both share involving a dropped wine bottle that makes his doubts clear to Jolie. We clearly see that John and Jane still care for each other, whether it's in Jolie's expression as she looks at old wedding videos, now being used to find clues with which to hunt her husband down, or in a moment of hesitation from Pitt during a fight. There's always room for small gags, too—such as when the pair stands nervously on an elevator, listening to canned music and awaiting near-certain death, but the focus is on that gift card ad in the background.
We never learn which sides the two protagonists are on here, which simplifies the Smiths' antics to a "Spy vs. Spy" level. You get Jane with confidante Jasmine (Kerry Washington) and a team of lethal ladies straight out of In Like Flint, and John with his drinking buddy Eddie (Vince Vaughn). With no geopolitical context to put them in, they seem more like a warring couple's normal Greek chorus. While that might not help the spy plot, it does further the metaphor of a marriage dissolving on a grand scale, and avoids the moral questions attached to the spy game. After all, at least one of these spies must be a baddie, right?
The transfer's great, showing off neat touches like the lightning flashes as the couple dates for the first time in Bogota and the bright 1960s spy flick colors in many of Jane's early scenes. It also shows off the bright yellow of the more typical action-movie explosions nicely. The score blends the sounds of spy movies and light comedy seamlessly, linking them together with a tango-like Latin beat that ties the movie back to the couple's first meeting in Bogota.
As with the movie itself, the commentaries and extra features focus on a central point: that the movie works because the people involved took out action scenes to focus on the comic byplay between Jolie and Pitt. Director Doug Liman and the movie's producers point to a tight budget (although that seems bizarre at the $110 million cited by Box Office Mojo), the schedules of Jolie and Pitt, and a gap in filming that gave them the time to reconsider and reshoot key scenes. With three commentaries, the moviemakers go over a lot of the same ground (such as architecture buff Pitt's insistence that they expand the house set). We don't even get to hear from the stars, who we're told had a marked influence on several scenes. If you're keeping notes about continuity errors, check out the crew commentary. These guys have a blast pointing out the flaws in their own handiwork. Of the three deleted scenes, I recommend checking out the one between Pitt and Vaughn.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
In his commentary, director Liman mentions that some people in test audiences considered the scene in which the Smiths fight it out and destroy their suburban home too intense, a sentiment he disagreed with. I thought this scene worked best when the Smiths were fighting with spy-movie weapons—machine guns, throwing knifes, and explosives—rather than when they were simply duking it out, as they did as the scene came to a close. It brushed a little too close to reality for a comedy of metaphors. But here, a quibble reminds me how sharp the movie is overall, even with continuity holes you could drive a truck through—literally, since the hole from a truck crash that was cut was one of the errors.
I'll have to agree with the movie's makers that less action and more comedy—with almost all gags hitting a thematic bullseye—made John and Jane a lively couple. It passes the ultimate test for a comedy: I laughed—a lot.
Not guilty, although two unnamed spy agencies might beg to differ.
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• "Making a Scene" Featurette
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