The Tourist is the new film directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck who last helmed 2006’s masterful The Lives of Others. The latter, which clinched the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film, centres on an East German secret service official (the late, great Ulrich Muhe) assigned to spy on a successful playwright and his girlfriend. However, becoming increasingly engrossed in the couple’s lives, the agent begins to realise that his own existence (and by extension, the government he works for) is cold, brutal and unfeeling. It’s thoughtfully and intelligently done. Meanwhile, at the start of The Tourist, which similarly features some high-stakes snooping, a surveillance team spy on Angelina Jolie to determine whether she’s wearing underwear or not. This opening gambit sets the tone for what is a nauseatingly frothy and contrived caper movie.
Jolie plays the squeeze of a multi-million dollar thief called Alexander Pierce, who has supposedly gone into hiding from the London Met. (lead by Paul Bettany) and a growling, grimacing Steven Berkoff who is in hot pursuit after Pierce pinched a few billion of his hard-earned cash. Jolie receives a letter from Pierce instructing her to get on a train to Venice and pick out a passenger of similar height and build as himself to act as a decoy for the cops. The fall guy happens to be ‘Math’ teacher and ex-smoker, Frank, as played by Johnny Depp, occasionally slipping into Captain Jack mode as he bumbles about on Venetian rooftops and in expensive-looking speedboats engaging in medium-speed chases around the city’s canals.
Needless to say its mistaken-identity premise grows thin pretty quickly, and Donnersmarck has succeeded in fashioning a film completely lacking the intrigue and intelligence his previous had. In fact, I was most interested in Frank’s mechanical cigarette he uses to kick the habit, complete with LED light and concealed water vapour adding to its authenticity.
However, the film’s utter damnation results from Jolie apparently only agreeing to appear in the film because it would be a quick shoot in Venice. Essentially, then, what we get is a series of snapshots of Ange sashaying about in glitzy cocktail dresses, looking a bit disinterested, on holiday. We end up as the tourists. Perhaps, then, the film is an exercise in self-referential subjectivity-blurring, meditating on the spectator/screen relationship, where the viewer is actually the protagonist of the title. Alas, I think I may be giving the film a little too much credit. Oh, and the ending is bonkers.