Director Florian Maria Georg Christian Graf Henckel von Donnersmarck (that’s his German good name) ushers the world’s most charismatic Hollywood stars – Johnny Depp, and Angelina Jolie into an antique hotel suite in Venice where Jolie hesitantly slips out of her statuesque gown in one room, while in another room, Depp flops around in his striped pyjamas like a hapless convict in a cell.
Prior to this scene, for the sake of the audience on the edge of their seats, von Donnersmarck has tossed in a kiss between the two actors. A two second kiss. That’s it? You begin to curse the filmmaker for being a tyrant.
No, wait, Johnny is knocking on Jolie’s bedroom door. Just as you would like to direct this film. You begin to slide into your seat, certain that this is the moment that you’ve been waiting for.
Wrong, von Donnersmarck thinks that’s such a Hollywood cliché. Instead, he puts the two in a room, minus any passion, and no fireworks. What does that make him?
He’s a German filmmaker, adapting a flop French film (The Tourist is a copy) for an international audience, with Hollywood studio money, and shooting in Venice, using English speaking megastars.
Here’s where Angelina Jolie is a mysterious woman (Elise Ward) traipsing around a train compartment, in search of a man to play the part of her criminal lover to hoodwink the police who are following her to nab him.
She meets Frank Tupelo (Johnny Depp) in the train and decides to use him as a pawn to get to her equally mysterious man, Alexander Pearce.
The police mistake Frank for Pearce. A gangster is also on the trail of Pearce who owes him two billion dollars. Jolie has to come to Frank’s rescue when his life is threatened by circumstances she has created around him, thus endangering her own in the police – mafia chase to nail the elusive thief.
More than the principal star cast, it’s the picturesque beauty of the city on fashionable stilts -Venice, that stands out. Wide angle heli-shots of the sun kissed city, crooked water streets curving for your head tilt, steaming boats and gondolas gliding over the waters, luxe buildings of Gothic artistry displaying fulgurant candelabras through Murano glass – its these light winged romantic notions of the city (such a Venice cliché) that does not hurt to sit through repeatedly – after all, who does not want to live in the Venice of an epic cine-world?
Or so it seems, breezy to Angelina Jolie, she of her red hot pout and her satin gowns. If that was all she needed to be a citizen of this welfare aesthete. Precisely the only same thing that Johnny Depp seems to appreciate in the film – Jolie in Venice, everything else can wait.
Angelina has gotten so used to playing a femme fatale that its listless trying to distinguish one from the other. As much as we would like the idea in our heads, Jolie never disappoints when she’s going for the kill, strutting forward like a lioness out of her den.
Johnny Depp’s performance suffers from an anxiety attack of having to watch the lioness approach him, freezing him as game that is sometimes startled and frozen when caught in a cul-de-sac with predator inching towards it in royal gait. Venice becomes that dead end for two good actors supplied with hollow characterisation on a film set where their clothes are primped to regale as would a postcard from this destination vain.
Likewise, production is top class, cinematography lush, music grand in places and the posse of good and bad guys equally bumbling and asinine. All the trappings for actors like Johnny and Depp to sail in and out as if on a sight-seeing tour of Venice, the living museum.
Its no tell-tale that von Donnersmarck’s thick German accent, would be instantly recognised for his first time in the city, by a bell-hop, into the hotel he would have been checking on a recce for the film shooting. ‘First time eh?’ ‘Tourist?’ Pretty much explains the film.
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