Judge Gordon Sullivan would rather live Hitchcock than Hiaasen.
Our review of The Tourist, published March 7th, 2011, is also available.
The Perfect Trip—The Perfect Trap
There is, in the parlance of international espionage, a wonderful term: the useful idiot. It began as a word used to describe those unintentionally aiding communism, those who thought they were helping orphan children when they were in fact funneling money to Russian agents. Now, the term has been broadened to generally refer to anyone who aids a group without their knowledge. Although not named as such, they're often a staple of spy and thriller movies, those characters who unintentionally get tangled up in some international scheme. However, it's been a while since we've seen as useful an idiot as Frank Tupelo, the title character of The Tourist, who gets involved with a mysterious woman and ends up with a price on his head. It's an old-time setup for a throwback thriller that relies on star power and beautiful setting to carry an otherwise thin plot.
Facts of the Case
Elise (Angelina Jolie, Salt) steps out from her home, knowing she is being surveilled by a team that includes Inspector Acheson (Paul Bettany, A Beautiful Mind). She takes her usual place at a café, and a letter is delivered to her from Alexander, her absent lover. The letter tells Elise to take a particular train, and once on it, to find a man matching Alexander's build in an attempt to convince Acheson and company that the man is Alexander. The man Elise finds is Frank Tupelo, a math teacher from Wisconsin. From there, the pair embark on a wild ride through Venice as ghosts from Alexander's past show up to trouble Elise and Frank.
Imagine, if you will, a Hitchcock marathon on cable. They're showing some of his great spy or caper films, like North by Northwest, The Lady Vanishes, or To Catch a Thief. You fall asleep in the middle of this marathon, and begin to dream your own Hitchcock film. Instead of Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn wandering some beautiful European city, it's Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp. That's about the experience of watching The Tourist—everything feels vaguely like you've seen it before, and the stars (who include people like Paul Bettany and Rufus Sewell) are what carry the tissue of a MacGuffin-laden plot.
Depending on how you feel about Hitchcock and/or the stars of this film, the above could be either a recommendation or a condemnation. I tend to err on the side of the former. I like Jolie and Depp enough to let them carry a picture in which dramatic weight and rigorous plotting are not essential. I was initially skeptical that Depp could play the down-to-earth math teacher the role demands, but he's put on a full beard and looks less thin in the face. He looks, in fact, a little bit like Judd Nelson. This takes away some of his more exotic beauty, but gives him an everyman quality that suits the character. Angelina Jolie is sufficiently regal, in both look and bearing, to pull off the international woman of mystery. Their chemistry together is not the typical sparks-flying kind, but they work well together. The rest of the cast is perfectly chosen, from Timothy Dalton as an administrator to Paul Bettany as a inspector.
The biggest lesson that The Tourist borrows from Hitchcock is not the use of star power, but of visual storytelling. Rather than giving the audience a bunch of exposition at the film's start, the first 10 minutes or so seem nearly silent, just allowing the camera to follow some men following a woman. We learn gradually that the men work for the police and the woman is being surveilled because she's the love interest of a man under investigation. We don't immediately know who he is, or why he's under investigation. Instead, the camera lets the scenes play out, letting the audience put the pieces together. It's refreshing to see a film that doesn't treat the audience like morons by over-explaining every single plot point. The plot itself is also fun, just complicated enough to be interesting, but not obsessed with details or fidelity to reality.
This is a gorgeous Blu-ray for the film. The 2.40:1 AVC encoded image is as beautiful as the Venetian settings. The image is generally clean and bright, with strong detail and a pleasing warmth. Darker scenes are well-rendered, with deep blacks and no compression artifacts. The lossless DTS soundtrack mirrors the film image, offering a bright, warm track with a bit of directionality. The dialogue takes center stage and is well-mixed and clear.
Extras start off with an audio commentary featuring director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. It's mostly concerned with discussing how the behind-the-scenes magic was achieved, from shooting in Venice to the film's occasional stunts. The bulk of the extras are included in five featurettes (three of them exclusive to this Blu-ray disc). They cover everything from typical behind-the-scenes material to the film's costuming and setting. They're mostly talking-head pieces, with input from the cast and crew coupled with production footage. We also get a peek at an alternate, animated opening and an outtakes reel.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As I said before, this is a Hitchcock-influenced star vehicle. Those looking for a more modern thriller in the post-Bourne Identity vein will be disappointed by the more sumptuous, idyllic thrills offered by The Tourist. The film is also completely predictable if you've seen more than one or two thrillers. The film certainly offers nothing for new for thrill fans, and the fact that someone in the special features refers to the film as "sophisticated" is laughable. Those who have tired of Jolie's or Depp's time in the spotlight should also avoid the film because their performances are so central.
I admit to being predisposed to like The Tourist, as a fan of both Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. Although I wish they'd used their talents for a more original or interesting script, The Tourist just barely works by offering beautiful locations, sumptuous costumes, and enough twists and turns to keep the story on the rails. The Blu-ray offers a wonderful transfer that really showcases the watery byways of Venice, even if the extras are a bit too self-congratulatory. Worth a rental for those with low expectations.
For the beauty of its Venetian locations alone, The Tourist is not guilty.
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