This is a partial image of the poster for The Tourist. Because I only partially saw The Tourist. I had fully intended to watch it all, on DVD. But it was awful. So I turned it off and stopped watching it. The context: it is the second film from writer-director Florian Henckel von Donnesmarck, the apparent genius behind one of the finest films of 2006, the Oscar-winning The Lives Of Others. I met and interviewed this giant of a man at the time for Radio 4, and came away suitably impressed. I’d loved his first feature, and, fluent in five languages and an actual, leonine German nobleman, he seemed to be a superstar in the making.
Having spent three years making The Lives Of Others, Henckel von Donnesmarck understandably fancied a break from the doom and gloom of the East German secret police and their pinched-faced surveillance culture, so he decided to make an old-fashioned, 60s-style spy caper, the kind which might once have starred Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, but in 2011 can only star Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. Set in Venice, revolving around a case of mistaken identity and with an early scene of two strangers meeting on a train, it would be a shamelessly Hitchcockian travelogue thriller romp. I was intrigued. I don’t much like Angelina Jolie onscreen, but I have an awful lot of time for Johnny Depp, an offbeat, intelligent actor and the only person I ever interviewed who smoked all the way through it. (This was pre-smoking ban, but nonetheless rare in mixed, professional company and among straight-edge, pleasure-averse Hollywood royalty.)
So, we sat down to watch it. And lasted about half an hour.
Because The Tourist had endured some horrible reviews, we had low expectations but went in with an open mind. And, ironically, it wasn’t as bad as you might expect. Certainly not as bad as Eat, Pray, Love. Jolie was poised and pert and old-fashioned (it’s set in contemporary times, by the way, but harks back to cigarette-holder 50s and 60s glamour and really ought to have been honest and set in the 50s or 60s), and her English accent was fine; Paul Bettany seemed a good fit for the harassed detective trying to catch a criminal; further British casting added Rufus Sewell, a revived Timothy Dalton and Steven Berkhoff to the list of potential attractions; and Johnny Depp … well, he’d be Johnny Depp, right?
Wrong. Depp, looking uncharacteristically puffy and unhappy, was actually the weak link. Miscast and possibly misdirected, I know he was supposed to be a crumpled “math” teacher dragged into an international manhunt because he’s the same height as the real criminal, but “everyman” is not his strongest suit. His actual suit looked wrong, too. He didn’t seem to know if this was a comedy or a thriller, and nor did the rest of us. Jolie’s character leads Depp to believe she’s seducing him, when in fact she’s using him, and they fetch up at the poshest hotel in Europe, and then Berkhoff’s gangsters turn up and suddenly there’s running in pyjamas over rooftops, and …
That was enough of that. Life is way too short to watch films that you don’t really want to watch. I hadn’t read much about The Tourist‘s genesis, but, the statutory lazy remake of a recent French film, it seems that it had been passed like a parcel from director to director, and from actor to actor (it could have been Charlize Theron, who I’d have preferred, acting against Tom Cruise, or Sam Worthington, either of whom I’d also have preferred), and when Henckel von Donnesmarck signed back on for the second time, he apparently rewrote it in two weeks and knocked it off in two months.
Maybe it got better in minute 31 and thereafter. I’m afraid I didn’t stick around to find out. I’m sure the German nobleman will live to make another great film. The Tourist defied the critics and took $277 million worldwide. The people have spoken. The people were obviously not as disturbed by Johnny Depp as I was.
Good to try stuff out, though. It takes all sorts. Sniiiiiiiiiiiip!