Thursday, 16 December 2010

The Tourist: Waistcoats are the next big thing

That's honestly my big takeaway from Florian Henckel von Donnersmark's new movie; if you don't have a waistcoat, you should go out right now and stock up. Every male character in the movie has a waistcoat. They may not have dialogue, plausible motivation, accents you can believe in, or even actual character, but they do have waistcoats. I'm replanning my wardrobe as we speak.

Now, when any film I've been looking forward to goes all meh on arrival, there has to be a formal casting of the blame, and the Tourist is no exception. First off, we have to acquit Paul Bettany, Rufus Sewell, and Timothy Dalton. And even Steven Berkoff . Blessed with roles that make little sense and dialogue which appears to have been put together in much the same way that Bettany's character obsessively assembles a burnt up letter from scraps, they nonetheless carry off their jobs with such consummate professionalism that you don't even see the regret they must have been feeling. But then, that's why you hire brits for these things. They'll work for cash and since they're actors, they'll throw in at no extra cost a convincing impersonation of a man who'd never so much as think of strangling his agent.

Then we have Johnny Depp, a reliable source of entertainment no matter what. It's actually difficult to weigh up what Depp is doing without blowing up the plot, but his character makes perfect sense as Frank, a maths teacher and widower from Wisconsin, and almost no sense as anything else. He's actually very convincing as a guy who's buried his wife and can't quite get a start on shifting the sadness of that loss. The problem is that he's so convincing as that, and he's shown in so many situations where he responds to problems exactly as that kind of person would, that the big reveal at the end of the movie doesn't make a button of sense. Still, he's lots of fun. Somehow I suspect the running gag that he thinks Spanish is interchangeable with Italian was entirely Depp's own idea, but it never wears out its welcome.

Which leaves Angelina Jolie, who I've rarely seen put to less use. Donnersmark and John Seale (of all people) even find ways to make her look middle-aged and frumpy, but what's startling is how much of the time they just put their faith in having the camera follow her along as she strides around languidly with a mysterious half smile. This is not acting. It isn't even action. Jolie isn't strictly speaking an actress, but she's got a wonderful poise and athleticism which makes her a very good action star. Deprive her of action, and the lack of acting ability starts to show. Her English accent isn't all that bad, oddly enough, but it does sound as though she's been watching the collected works of Liz Hurley and learning all the wrong things from them.

The blame, however, belongs with McQuarrie and Donnersmark. Donnersmark is a very good dramatic director by all accounts, but hiring him to direct stars, as opposed to actors, in a modern caper movie, turns out to be a pretty bad idea. A caper movie has to pop and fizzle and crackle. In between the moments of action and high adventure, the stars have to spark off each other and entertain us. The director's job is to pace the caper so that we're consistently entertained. The writer's job is to write the caper so that the director will have something to pace.

How has McQuarrie come to this? This is the guy who wrote The Usual Suspects. And then wrote Way of the Gun and Valkyrie. Now that I come to think of it, maybe I should stop sounding surprised. It's just very disappointing that the sparkling talent that gave us the Usual Suspects has come to this. The twists and reveals and sudden shifts are there; as is the sense of more than one deep plot colliding. What's not there is the sense of urgency and involvement that the better film had.

All in all, The Tourist is a bunch of talented people doing things that they're not actually that good at. I wish I could believe anyone's going to learn from it.

In other news, I saw the trailer for Reese Witherspoon's new movie, which somehow cost more than Iron Man even though apparently Reese only has one outfit for the whole movie. I have no idea what they spent the money on.


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