Each New Year’s Eve I get together with my best friend and his family to have a Harry Potter movie marathon. Because we tend to see our own kin on Christmas, this is also an opportunity for us to exchange gifts. I look forward to this day every year, not only for the opportunity to re-watch some beloved films, but to spend the time with someone who is basically a brother to me. I also enjoy the company of his household. Every once in a while, though, a New Year’s Eve comes along where they have to disrupt everything and go out of town around the holidays. Sigh. This year was one of those years. No worries. It afforded me the privilege of spending an evening with my girlfriend cuddled up on the couch viewing other movies. Early on in our relationship, one piece of cinema she insisted that we see together was The Tourist (2010). I had never seen it, but I did have vague recollections of its existence. Neither do I recall any particular desire to consume it, but my girlfriend likes it, so. . . .
The first person you meet in The Tourist is not the eponymous traveler, but rather a mysterious British woman in Paris named Elsie Clifton-Ward (Angelina Jolie). Given her nationality and location, I suppose you could call her a tourist. One could suppose a lot of things about this movie, actually, and most of them would probably be incorrect. Anyway, she is not the tourist, but she is being monitored by the French police. She receives a letter from a person named Alexander Pearce while sitting at one of those quaint Parisian outdoor cafes taking her tea. He is of even greater interest to the police, particularly Inspector John Acheson (Paul Bettany) of Scotland Yard. He is wanted by the British government for £744 million in back taxes, and he is a known associate of Elsie. The letter seems to indicate some estrangement between them, but directs her to board a train bound for Venice, and to look for a man onboard who resembles him. Elsie gives the cops the slip and obeys, burning the letter before they can get a hold of it. The authorities follow as best they can, believing she will lead them to Alexander. This is also seemingly part of his plan as well, because he wants whoever Elsie chooses on the train to be the person the police deem to be Alexander. This happens to be Frank Tupelo (Johnny Depp), a math teacher from Wisconsin. He is the tourist. Elsie sits across from him, and they begin to converse. Elsie’s air of mystery attracts Frank, and before long he is accepting an invitation to stay with her at a luxurious Venetian hotel and a fancy canal-side meal. Unfortunately, this is when Frank discovers that there are more people looking for Alexander Pearce, namely faux Russian mobster Reginald Shaw (Steven Berkhoff). Alexander used to work for Reginald, but left the ruthless crime boss’ employ after stealing $2.3 billion. Hence, you can understand why Reginald might be a little peeved. Because he has contacts in Scotland Yard, he knows where the supposed Alexander is headed. With Elsie having seemingly abandoned him, Frank is caught in the room by Shaw’s men and flees over Venetian rooftops. Elsie spots the chase and is able to rescue Frank, leaving him at the airport with his passport, money, and instructions to leave. With Frank apparently out of the picture, Elsie goes to see Inspector Acheson because, surprise, she has been working for the British government the entire time. She wants to be done with this work, but an upcoming ball and the chance to nab Alexander, not to mention her close association with the target fugitive, means that her time as an undercover operative is not at an end. Because he is in love with Elsie, Frank comes to the ball, too. At said soiree, a shadowy figure (Rufus Sewell) leaves a note for Elsie to follow him. Her scramble leads her to Frank. Their dance, though, results in his arrest. Luckily for Elsie, the note contains an address for her to go. Not so luckily, she finds Shaw and his thugs awaiting her arrival. Shaw thinks this to be the private home of Alexander and Elsie, and he threatens her life if she does not open the safe where his stolen money is supposed to be kept. Inspector Acheson is monitoring the situation. By this point, he has determined that Frank is not Alexander, but Frank is the room as they spy on the home. The police also have snipers standing by to shoot Shaw and his men. Inspector Acheson keeps resisting the order to fire because he is convinced Alexander will appear. Sensing Elsie’s danger, Frank manages to sneak away and intervenes in the house, claiming to be Alexander. Just when Frank is being forced to open the safe, Inspector Acheson’s boss, Chief Inspector Jones (Timothy Dalton) arrives and orders the snipers to open fire. He then delivers the news that a man they suspect to be Alexander has been apprehended elsewhere in the city. With the job apparently done, Elsie is let go from her position. Yet, the man they arrested turns out not be Alexander. It had been Frank all along. When the police return to the house, they find a check for the back taxes, which satisfies Chief Inspector Jones. And Elsie and Alexander sail into the sunset.
While watching The Tourist, I did not take a lot of notes. This is mostly because I did not fully understand what was going on in the film. That is my first entry: “I have no idea what is going on.” That is one of seven total entries for a movie that lasts just a little under two hours. It is full of people saying who they are, but not meaning it, and turning out to be somebody else entirely. That part is easy enough to figure out, but the revelations seemed to come illogically. By the time I got to the end and the film definitively says that Frank is Alexander, I stopped trying to follow it. There is, though, one little nugget to explore from a faith perspective, and that is the notion of good and bad. Elsie says that people have both a good and bad side, and that we must embrace both in the people we love. I guess this applies to her relationship with Alexander because she is a cop in love with a thief? Yet, there is no explanation of how he got such an enormous back taxes amount. I think we can all give somewhat of a pass to anyone who can put a dent in organized crime, even if I do not condone theft in any form. Still, this notion of people having a good and bad side is an interesting one. It does not fit with Church teaching, but I get why some people see the human character in this manner. How else can we explain the awful things done by even the best person? Faith will tell you that there is one source of evil, the devil, and that he is constantly trying to lead us away from the path to heaven. So, nice try movie, but I will stick with my belief that people are inherently good.
I was glad to watch The Tourist with my girlfriend on New Year’s Eve, even if she did fall asleep not long into it. Doing so would contradict the assertion I made in my review of American Underdog (2021) that a movie’s quality can be judged by whether or not she stays awake. Then again, this is a film she likes, so I do not know what to make of this anymore. Nor do I know what to make of The Tourist. Mostly, I would say pass, unless you have a girlfriend you are trying to please.