If Angelina Jolie sitting in a Parisian cafe sipping tea, Johnny Depp sitting on a train reading a book, or Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp sitting together on a boat in Venice is Florian Henckel von Donnersmark's idea of an action-packed spectacle--or a fitting homage to the master of suspense thrillers himself, Alfred Hitchcock--then this Academy Award winning director should perhaps return to making films in his mother tongue. Celebrated for Das Leben Der Anderen (The Lives of Others), Henckel von Donnersmark's exploration of a Stasi officer's dramatic emotional transformation as he spies on a treasonous couple is far more believable than the events that unfold in The Tourist.
Elise Clifton-Ward (Jolie) is something of an anachronism, even by European standards. She glides through the streets of Paris wearing elegant dresses and perfectly coiffed hair--a woman of true leisure. The only hurdle standing in the way of genuine bliss is the fact that she is being heavily monitored by a team of police officials assigned by Scotland Yard to follow her. And it is within these first few minutes of beholding an extremely conspicuous slew of men watch her every move that all credibility of the film is lost.
The plausibility of The Tourist continues to take a downward spiral as Elise opens a plain white envelope with the initials "AP" embossed on the back (we later learn the initials stand for Alexander Pearce, Elise's estranged corazón). The contents of the letter instruct her to meet Alexander at the Gare de Lyon for the 8:22 train to Venice. She burns the letter and rushes to the train station to heed his instructions. The burnt letter is collected by someone from Scotland Yard and immediately dissected by Inspector John Acheson (Paul Bettany, who often plays secondary roles in films of the thriller genre, such as The Da Vinci Code). Conveniently, Acheson reassembles the words in the letter just in time to figure out that Elise is headed to the Gare de Lyon.
Elise, per Alexander's behest, selects someone of his height and build to sit next to on the train, a man named Frank Tupelo (a somewhat wizened looking Johnny Depp. I can now see why Ryan Reynolds beat him out this year for People's Sexiest Man Alive issue). Frank is obviously the bashful type, letting Elise do all of the flirting and seducing, though it is wasted on someone as self-effacing as he. While their romantic interlude is being established at a glacial pace, Acheson has contacted and enlisted the help of the Italian branch of Interpol, unbeknownst to his boss, Chief Inspector Jones (played by Timothy Dalton, who I can only ever imagine as Mr. Skinner in Hot Fuzz), who has already ordered him to call off the investigation.
When Acheson's assistant learns that Frank is merely a math teacher from Wisconsin, the Interpol agents are forced to cancel their plan to apprehend him once he arrives in Venice. For an instant, it looks as though Frank will remain out of harm's way--until another lower level employee at Scotland Yard who is unaware that Frank is not Alexander Pearce informs the henchman of an intimidating English gangster named Reginald Shaw (Steven Berkoff) that Pearce is in Venice. Being that Pearce, as Shaw's private banker, stole many millions of dollars from him and then fled into oblivion for two years, Shaw is extremely elated by the tipoff. Still, in yet another bothersome element of plot explanation, why the employee feels compelled to tell Shaw this information is not addressed.
In the meantime, Frank's attraction to Elise is allowed to flourish when she invites him to stay with her at the Hotel Danieli (the owner of which must have creamed himself when asked by the location scout to feature the hotel so prominently). The two have dinner together and Elise alludes to the fact that she cannot seem to shake the habit of loving Pearce, regardless of his many foibles. This admission appears to upset Frank, who has clearly developed some strong feelings for her.
Apart from the drawn out plot and its less than gripping "twists," particularly the conclusion, the entire feel of the script seems completely slapped together by von Donnersmark and his co-writers, Christopher McQuarrie (of The Usual Suspects fame) and Julian Fellowes (writer of Vanity Fair and The Young Victoria). And, although hazily imitating the Hitchcockian formula, there is no maguffin, a sparsity of logic, and a general reliance on the beauty of Angelina Jolie to distract from the global weakness of the movie.