The Tourist is about as difficult to get through as spotting the vowels in the name of its director. Florian Henckel von Donnersmark was last seen receiving a Best Foreign Film Oscar in 2007 for The Lives of Others which was about a couple living in East Berlin who were being monitored by the police of the German Democratic Republic. Its positive reception made way for the assumption that Donnersmark would continue to populate the USA with films of seemingly otherworldly and underrepresented themes. But his current project is saddening in its superficiality and total implausibility.
The film’s only real upside is its stars: two of our most prized Americans. Johnny Depp plays Frank Tupelo a math teacher from Wisconsin who travels to Europe after his wife leaves him presumably because of his weakness and simplicity. While en route to Venice he meets Elise Clifton-Ward (Angelina Jolie) who situates herself in his company after she receives a letter from her criminal lover Alexander Pearce (who stole some billions from a very wealthy Russian and the British government) with instructions to find someone on a train who looks like him and make the police believe that he is the real Alexander Pearce to throw the authorities and the Russians off his track. Elise picks Frank and after they are photographed kissing each other on the balcony of Elise’s hotel everyone begins to believe Frank is the real Pearce and so begins the chase.
While Donnersmark could not have picked two better looking people to film roaming around Venice his lack of faith in the audience is obvious. Every aspect of the characters is hammed up again and again as if Donnersmark felt burdened with the task of making us see his vision. Doubtful that we’re capable of getting to where he wants us he has crafted a movie completely devoid of subtlety. Elise’s strength and superiority over Frank are portrayed by close-ups and repeated instances of men burping up their lungs upon seeing her (as if her beauty is in any way subjective?). And in case we forgot that Frank is the victim in this story -- even though he’s been tricked chased and shot at - Donnersmark still felt the need to pin him with a lame electronic cigarette to puff on. Frank and Elise somehow manage to lack mystery even though we get very few factual details about each of them.
Nothing extraordinary comes to us in the way of the film’s structural elements either. There is very little of the action that The Tourist’s marketing led us to believe and the dialog is often painful. The plot itself is almost shockingly unbelievable especially when we’re asked to believe that Elise falls in love with Frank after a combination of kissing him once and her disclosed habit of swooning over men she only spent an hour with (yes that was on her CV).
The Tourist is rather empty and cosmetic. It’s worth seeing if you’re a superfan of Jolie or Depp but don’t expect to walk out of the theater with anything more than the stub you came in with.
Sometimes the oldest stories are the most beautiful ones and that's certainly the case in Cold Mountain a relatively straightforward film about a couple in love during the Civil War. Momentous in its scope and stirring in its intimacy Cold Mountain powerfully weaves together the journeys of its two protagonists Inman (Jude Law) and Ada Monroe (Nicole Kidman) as they endure the hardships of war and await their reunion. Inman a Confederate soldier wounded in the Battle of the Crater (one of the most powerful cinematic battle scenes in recent memory) realizes as he lies in the hospital that he's had enough of fighting and he goes AWOL on a journey homeward that will take him through a series of trials not unlike those Odysseus faced in Homer's epic: He's tempted by sirens tended to by a mountain healer/shepherdess and betrayed by a mountain man he meets along the way. Through it all his thoughts are never far from the faithful Penelope whose picture he keeps with him always--the woman he left behind at the farm on Cold Mountain the beautiful Ada a true Southern belle. Regrettably Ada's schooling in the finer things in life has left her ill-prepared to care for the farm on her own as war rages across the country and the local militia known as the Home Guard wreaks havoc on the home front it's supposed to be protecting. Longing for Inman and weary of the struggle to survive Ada welcomes the help of Ruby Thewes (Renee Zellweger) a spunky hellcat of a farm girl whose friendship and common sense spark Ada's transformation into a self-reliant woman.
Law's Inman a man of few words is a study in silent intensity--there's not a woman alive who would question why Ada loves him despite his rough exterior and slightly odd ways. Kidman's Ada too has a quiet energy and a porcelain beauty that belies the tough stuff she eventually discovers under the ringlets and hoop skirts. Taken separately each performance is flawless; together the chemistry between Kidman and Law is breathtaking. There's no question the leads in this film deserve Academy Award nominations but Renee Zellweger absolutely steals the show with her magical Ruby--she should without doubt walk away statue in hand. Every moment her feisty loudmouthed character is on the screen is an absolute pleasure whether she's sharing her homespun wisdom threatening the Home Guard nasties or worrying about a cow's overfull udder. Philip Seymour Hoffman who's regrettably not getting much Oscar buzz also deserves a mention--he's a wicked hoot as Inman's traveling companion the defrocked (literally) preacher Veasey--and Brendan Gleeson has a nice turn as Ruby's fiddle-playing roustabout father Stobrod. Look also for the elfin Jack White of the trendy White Stripes who's featured prominently on the soundtrack as another of the musicians.
Anthony Minghella has developed a reputation as a director and screenwriter who can take a gorgeous literary book and make it an even better film. The trend started with his Oscar-winning 1996 version of Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient continued with a rendition of Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley in 1999 (which also featured Law and Hoffman) and culminates with this masterful adaptation of Charles Frazier's critically acclaimed Cold Mountain which reunites Minghella with his production team from those films including director of photography John Seale costume designer Ann Roth and composer Gabriel Yared. From the opening battle scene--an expansive gut wrenching gorgeous piece of photography from Seale (The English Patient Mr. Ripley)--to the final snowy moments atop Cold Mountain the story captivates the characters seduce and the vast panoramic mountain landscapes (shot in Romania South Carolina and Virginia) inspire. Roth's rich costumes lend even more depth to the visual display and a fantastic score from Yared (produced by T-Bone Burnett of O Brother Where Art Thou? fame) perfectly punctuates the action. Listen too for Sting's moving song "You Will Be My Ain True Love " performed by Alison Krauss and Sting as the end credits roll.