Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s The Tourist is an obsessive (and I do mean obsessive) homage to thrillers from the late ’50s and early ’60s. One can see nods to Stanley Donen’s Charade and the work of Alfred Hitchcock from its plot to its exotic locales, the costuming and even the performances themselves. Sadly, it emulates its inspirations to a fault, so focused on its artifice and recreating a bygone style and era that it all comes off as stiff.
Angelina Jolie stars as Elise Clifton-Ward. She’s mysterious, snobbish, and under the false assumption that she is Audrey Hepburn. While being tailed by Scotland Yard inspector Acheson (Paul Bettany) and local detectives in France, Elise receives a letter via courier (who delivers to cafes, conveniently). The correspondence’s author is Alexander Pearce, the notorious target of various authorities, Elise’s boyfriend, and an outlaw on the lam for stealing vast amounts of money from a vicious Russian mobster (Steven Berkoff). But Pearce has just undergone plastic surgery to render his face unrecognizable, and Elise’s letter tells her to take a train to Venice and select an unsuspecting sap who possesses Alexander’s basic features to distract authorities.
Boarding a train to Venice, she chooses Frank Tupelo (Johnny Depp), a Madison, Wisconsin math teacher who immediately becomes a target of Scotland Yard and the Russian mob. Wracked with guilt, Elise falls for the befuddled tourist, eventually helping him as he is pursued through Venice.
As one can imagine from the story alone, this is quite a cinematic throwback. However, it might have been wiser to set this tale in the period the film harkens to. The wafer-thin character of Elise doesn’t simply walk, she literally sashays her way through the streets in ornate gowns, saddled with some pretty clunky, outdated and wooden dialogue. This adversely affects her chemistry with Depp, who she’s supposed to fall for in a mere forty-eight hours. The old-fashioned orchestral score is too exaggerated as well, swelling with bombast when the two are near an embrace. Contrasted with the present day setting, this makes everything appear all the more artificial, overplayed and preposterous.
“Everyman” protagonist Frank isn’t introduced soon enough in the story for the audience to identify with and follow him sympathetically. However, the script gives Depp a little more to work with character-wise and he makes the most of it convincingly, milking his confused expressions and reactions for maximum comedic effect.
Henckel von Donnersmarck’s desire to recreate old-fashioned cinema also leads to some less than exciting chases. The big action set piece is a motorboat chase through the canals, yet it is so leisurely pieced together that the whole sequence feels as though it is being presented in slow motion. The twists and turns of the plot make increasingly less sense as well, with the final reveal making some of the character’s behavior and comments in previous scenes ring inconsistent at best.
The Tourist is a good looking movie with a real sense of glamor. The locations are beautiful (when they aren’t adversely affected by the use of green screen), Depp is a likable protagonist and the movie’s tone and style represent an interesting throwback experiment that is fascinating at times. But, in this case, the experiment ultimately doesn’t succeed, and the movie feels flat. Perhaps in forty years when cinema and its performance styles have evolved again, the film may play to audiences in the way it was originally intended.
2.5 out of 5