Anyone else remember when The Tourist looked like an interesting film with two widely recognizable stars set against the background of one of the world's most alluring cities, instead of a punch line that Ricky Gervais mentioned at the recent Golden Globes ceremony? Me neither, and while I hadn't seen the film when Gervais mentioned it, it seemed like a slightly unfair barb. But hey, we're here now and I've seen it, so just how right is Gervais?
The script (inspired from the 2005 French Film Anthony Zimmer) was written by several recognizable names, including Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects), Julian Fellowes (The Lives of Others) and Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (The Lives of Others), the latter of whom directed the film. Elise (Angelina Jolie, Salt) lives in France and is both beautiful and mysterious enough that both French law authorities and Scotland Yard, namely Inspector Acheson (Paul Bettany, Iron Man 2), monitor her activities through surveillance. She receives a letter from her former beau, a man named Alexander Pearce. Pearce is in hiding because he has stolen hundreds of millions of dollars from an Englishman named Reginald Shaw (Steven Berkoff, Beverly Hills Cop) and is aware of the bounty on his head. Pearce's note to Elise is simple; take a train from France to Venice and meet a man who looks similar in build to him. This is where Frank (Johnny Depp, Alice in Wonderland) comes into play. A widower, trying to quit smoking while touring through Italy and reading spy novels, he's confused by this sudden flirtation, but as he becomes more infatuated with Elise, he gets himself in more danger, even after he finds out why Elise sat down with him on the train to Venice (where the film spends the bulk of its time). Elise gets periodic instructions from Pearce in notes and letters, and wants to find him while ducking Scotland Yard and Interpol.
The story starts out in an interesting way, and putting Depp as a innocent man in a suspenseful situation is a classic Cary Grant in Hitchcock move. Jolie serves the role well, hiding Elise's true intentions from Frank for awhile before eventually giving in to his kindness. She deals with wanting to find Pearce and both dominating (and possibly giving into) Frank's thoughts and ideas with a European grace and a British accent that made me wonder if my mother was in the room. As far as Depp goes, it's hard to get a read on his performance, which in retrospect may be one reason why it helps push the story along. He portrays the innocent tourist thrown into all of this exceptionally well, and there's something between Depp and Jolie that they have a solid chemistry with each other.
However, as Brian Orndorff superbly mentioned in his review, the film loses its intrigue and thus much of its appeal as it moves closer to an ending that is lazy and sadly enough thinks it's more clever than it actually is. What occurs leaves you feeling cheated after spending the first hour and change of the film liking what went on, or at least being interested by it and wondering where it goes. That I was starting to think the ending would be what it was midway through the first act (shortly after they arrive in Venice) either makes me really cynical or really smart, so I'll take credit for the latter and run away with my pride intact.
It's a shame too, because von Donnersmarck effectively combines the Venice exteriors with Depp and Jolie's performances, making for a film that could have been shot decades ago, but the current result feels like a waste of time, making you wonder why Depp and Jolie ever signed on to begin with. It was nice being a tourist for the film, but as one who's a fan of him, Ricky Gervais is both correct and funny in his description of this disappointment.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Presented in 2.40:1 high-definition widescreen using the AVC codec, The Tourist serves as a love letter to the film's backdrop. Venice looks amazing on Blu-ray, with detail spotted within the brick buildings and facades, and the wide shots of the city possess a multidimensional look to them. Image detail in the foreground is strong for the most part, but there are moments of mild softness. Flesh tones are reproduced accurately and without problem, and there is a small layer of film grain present during viewing. It's an excellent looking disc.
The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is pleasant listening. When the action sequences occur (and they do in the film), they aren't exactly immersive all-encompassing experiences, but they handle the workload when it comes to soundstage clarity and low-end activity. There are moments where directional effects are clear and convincing, such as when Frank is temporarily locked in an Italian holding cell with a large man who continuously bangs his head against the iron walls; the noise is surprising. Dialogue sounds consistent in the center channel and requires little adjustment, and the overall soundtrack is good without being overpowering.
There are a few extras on the disc, but the best one is a commentary from von Donnersmarck. In it, he swears at early points in the commentary (which is strangely bleeped out), discusses his motivation for casting Timothy Dalton from his past work in The Rocketeer and is a fan of the old television show 3-2-1 Contact. Underlying the track though is his somewhat centered message for aspiring filmmakers as he talks about his approach to the film and what types of style choices made in it. He points out smaller things such as the usage of a jet plane that Depp owns, and on larger contributions by the cast and crew. All in all it was an outstanding track, one of the better ones in recent memory and one (on a personal note) that my wife wound up listening to and enjoying, though she had no plans to do either when I fired it up.
Next up are a series of smaller featurettes, starting with "Canal Chats" (6:01), which includes von Donnersmarck, Bettany and Fellowes as they discuss the production's location and the challenges of shooting in the canals. "A Gala Affair" (7:12) recounts the third act sequence as Production Designer Jon Hutman recounts his contributions to the set and the design involved. "Action in Venice" (6:29) is basically the same thing, but covers the stunts and action scenes as Stunt Coordinator Simon Crane recounts his work on set. "Bringing Glamour Back" (9:08) looks at the wardrobe in the film, and Depp and Jolie discuss their allure to the story. Even composer James Newton Howard gets a chance to mention his work for the film. "Tourist Destination" (3:17) looks at Venice in more detail, while there is an alternate animated title sequence (2:14) that reminds me a bit of Catch Me If You Can. An outtake reel (1:26) is equal parts press junket interview with Depp, Jolie and Bettany along with a rapid-fire mix of pre-take laughs, and a second disc includes a standard definition copy of the film.
The first hour of The Tourist starts off possessing a lot of interest and mystery, and make you think about how the characters will end up. Sadly though the filmmakers took the easy way out with the resolution and didn't even provide a decent excuse as to why. Technically the film looks and sounds good, and the supplements are fine (von Donnersmarck's commentary is one of the better ones I've heard in recent memory), but I'd only rent this if you're a fan of Depp or Jolie and do little else with it.