With Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp, Paul Bettany, Timothy Dalton, Steven Berkoff. Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. Rated PG-13 for violence and brief strong language. 104 minutes.
THE TOURIST is a throwback to the films of Alfred Hitchcock, such as “North by Northwest,” as well as Hitchcock wannabes like “Charade.” It’s the sort of movie Hollywood hasn’t made in a long time, which may make it seem fresh and original. Even if it can’t quite honestly be called original, it is a lot of fun, and a welcome break from the deep dish Oscar contenders which will soon be vying for our attention.
Since the movie is filled with twists, revelations about characters – and a red herring or two – the plot description will be brief. It opens as Elise Clifton-Ward (Angelina Jolie looking like a million bucks) is being spied upon by people being supervised by British official John Acheson (Paul Bettany). She is a link to a mysterious character named Alexander and they’re following her in hopes she will lead them to him.
Alexander sends her instructions to take the train to Venice and seek out someone who resembles him in shape and build in hopes of throwing her pursuers off the track. She selects Frank Tupelo (Johnny Depp), an American tourist who is a math teacher from Wisconsin. He’s about to get in over his head with intrigue, romance, and a British gangster (Steven Berkoff) with Russian henchmen who is also convinced he’s Alexander. Apparently, Alexander stole a lot of money from the gangster, who wants it back.
Jolie plays a sophisticated jetsetter and you can easily see why heads turn when she walks through a room. Depp, with a mop of hair that looks like what Woody Allen sported in the early ‘70s, plays Frank as a regular guy trying to make sense of the increasingly bizarre situations he’s in. Depp is a fine actor who is mostly coasting here, but he keeps it fun.
The most interesting character may be Bettany’s obsessed inspector. We come to his question his motives many times in the film as he seemingly is willing to stop at nothing to track down Alexander. Berkoff is suitably menacing as the gangster, especially in a scene where he interrupts a suit fitting to deal with an underling who has failed to accomplish his task. Timothy Dalton pops up for a few scenes as Bettany’s boss, and perhaps a brief reminder that he is one of the handful of actors who can include the role of James Bond in his credits.
“The Tourist” makes great use of its European locations (mostly in Venice) and its attractive and talented cast. It’s not exactly check-your-brain-at-the-door material, but it’s a romantic thriller on the lighter side, providing ample rewards for those willing to play along.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.