What does it mean to win a foreign film academy award? In the modern world, it means you can go to America. Not everyone does, of course, but usually the awarded film features great performances. Director Andrew Dominik said of his Chopper that when you make a film like that, actors want to work with you, and such seems the case for Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, who came out of The Lives of Others looking like a champ. For geeks, he was the man who denied Guillermo Del Toro an Oscar, but the film was considered one of the best of the year.
Regardless, his work caught a lot of people’s attentions, which is why he was able to make The Tourist with Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. Depp stars as Frank Tupelo, the titular tourist who takes a train ride with Elise Clifton-Ward (Jolie). She is being followed by international agents (headed up by Paul Bettany) as she is the lover of a mysterious accountant Alexander Pearce, who is worth a couple billion dollars and is wanted by the British government for $775 Million in back taxes. Elise is contacted by her lover to go on a train and find a dupe, who turns out to be Frank.
The film starts with a set-up that’s both familiar and new, and von Donnersmarck and his fellow scripters Christopher McQuarrie and Julian Fellows (in adapting the French film by Jerome Salle Anthony Zimmer) obviously are careful of their Hitchcock. That’s the activating agent for this film (and likely the original), as the two strangers meet on a train, but Depp’s Tupelo is no Roger Thornhill. Tupelo is a bumpkin, touring Europe after the death of his wife, a math teacher who smokes an electronic cigarette. Elise chides him for his behavior, and coaches him how to act as a man. It’s a charming scene, and though everyone involved seems to know what they’re riffing on, it’s still got enough sharp edges to make it pop a little.
When the two de-board, it’s revealed that the police know he’s a dupe, so they back off, but enough information leaks out that illicit gangster Reginald Shaw (Steven Berkoff) is on his trail. His order to his men: you can kill Elise, but Frank must be left alone. Elsie invites Frank on a night on the town, and the come close to consummating a relationship, but he is weak and is aware that there is another man. From there the film becomes a chase, as Shaw wants his money, and chases Frank without knowing that he has nothing to do with anything, though word is that Pearce has gotten plastic surgery, so any one is possible. But it’s also about Frank becoming the man he’s always wanted to be, and a man of derring-do (which is the theme of all these sorts of films).
What’s unfortunate for this film is that Brian De Palma ruined Hitchockian riffing. Where De Palma was able to steal from Hitchcock and turn it into a game, his knowing acknowledgement makes those that follow come across as less clever. The Tourist feels familiar in its To Catch a Thief meets North By Northwest trappings, and there’s a sag to the film because it comes across as a xerox. There’s no edge here, there’s nothing more than feeling like a riff until the final reveal, which I will cover in a spoiler section. And if you like a reasonably well made riff on Hitchcock then this will surely fulfill your needs, but it feels like exactly that (and no more). In every way this film feels like a movie out of time, as this sort of thing seems to be something best done two decade or more ago. But if I don’t dislike the film, it’s because it feels old school, with a nailed down plot and enough twists and turns and practical action to keep a viewer engaged.
What I think makes the film is the ending, which moves us into spoiler territories, so beware. End of line, I modestly liked the film, and there’s some appearances by actors I didn’t know were in the film that lifted the movie for me, and as a star showcase, character actors having fun sort of film, I found it to be harmless fun.
What I think makes the film is that in the end moments, there’s a twist ending (which the writing credits might make more evident) where Tupelo is revealed to be the sought after man in question. What I like-to-love about this ending is that Johnny Depp is our everyman, just as so many ultra-famous people have been before. What makes the ending for me is that it says that what we trusted was that everyman is revealed to be a billionaire. In that way, the film is a very interesting comment (intentionally or no) on so much of pop culture and films like this. And that was enough for me to view this film as a minor success.