Film Friday: ‘The Tourist’ and ‘Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader’

by W. Andrew Powell

Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie in The Tourist

Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie in The Tourist

Opening this weekend in theatres: Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie star in the action-comedy, The Tourist; and we take a fresh trip through C.S. Lewis’ fantastic world in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

The Tourist
Starring: Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, Paul Bettany, Timothy Dalton, Steven Berkoff, Rufus Sewell
Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

Rated: 7/10

The Tourist is simple proof, if we ever needed to see it again, that star power does no necessarily make a movie great. In case you wondered, writers and directors make movies great and somehow they bungled this one up a notch more than should be possible.

Looking at Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie on screen, it’s easy to expect a lot from them–after all, we’re talking about two of the biggest film stars of the last decade–and did I mention that The Tourist was directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, the man behind The Lives of Others? You also have Paul Bettany, Timothy Dalton, and Rufus Sewell up there on screen, and somehow things just feel a little ridiculous.

Miraculously though, unlike a lot of critics, I actually still enjoyed The Tourist, at least as a light-hearted romp.

Jolie stars as Elise, a smoldering, wealthy woman who is being followed by half of the English and French police as she wanders through Paris. The reason for her popularity with police is pretty simple–it turns out that her well-to-do husband, the enigmatic Alexander Pearce, walked off with over $2 billion dollars that he stole from an English mobster and shortly after that Alexander went into hiding. Now the government wants their cut of the cash to the tune of $744 million in taxes, but Alexander is nowhere to be seen.

In fact, Alexander has not only gone into hiding, it’s believed he also went under the knife for millions of dollars worth of plastic surgery meant to dramatically alter his appearance so he can hide from police.

Receiving a note from Alexander, Elise is told to take the next train to Venice and find a man on the train who looks like him and convince police that the man is actually her husband. That man ends up being the demure Frank, played of course by Depp, an American math teacher who is headed to Venice on a lonely vacation until Elise shows up and essentially whisks him off his feet.

As the police realize that Alexander is trying to dupe them though, the English mobster shows up and promptly takes the bait, believing that Frank is actually Alexander. What follows is a spirited, whimsical race around Venice to uncover the truth, and find out where Alexander is hiding.

What I really liked about The Tourist was the fact that the movie has a lot of fun with the story, the setups, and the fact that it feels like it was based on a spy novel from the 1950s or 60s. As always, both Depp and Jolie use every ounce of charisma to make you love them, but while Jolie is an effortless bombshell, it’s Depp who is clearly the star of this story.

The camera lingers on Jolie, and she has more screen time than Depp, but Depp is still the star here, and that’s actually what saved the film for me. Jolie is essentially reliving five or six of her previous roles in The Tourist, if you want to be honest about it, while Depp once again channels someone new, creating a character that is wholly original.

The Tourist is filled with great performances from all of the actors involved though, including all three of the main antagonists: Paul Bettany, Timothy Dalton, Steven Berkoff, not to mention Rufus Sewell who makes a brief but wonderful appearance. These actors, director Henckel von Donnersmarck’s whimsical take on the story, and the film’s overall retro tone are what made The Tourist so much fun to watch. I undoubtedly left the film with a smile on my face because von Donnersmarck got the kitsch value of the material and made it memorable.

Clearly though, von Donnersmarck had his hand held by a number of American producers, whether he wanted that or not. Yes, the film has a great style because it feels like it is an Americanized European film, but The Tourist also suffers because it feels like it went through Hollywood’s old-fashioned wringer to remove any semblance of intelligence from the script. The audience is given no chance to think for itself, and that makes the film hard to watch at times. The script has also been whittled down to the point where you can see the film’s final chapter coming at you from the moment Elise sits down at the French cafe in the opening scene.

My biggest complaint though would obviously be the film’s use of digital effects to make it look like the two stars of the film were really doing fantastic things in Venice. At one point Depp steps out of an upper-story window to leap onto an adjoining roof, and the window with Depp in it actually wiggled around on the wall as the actor tried to prepare for the jump. The shoddy special effects were then put into play to make it look like Depp was running across a rooftop in Venice, when he was probably on a sound stage which played unconvincingly as a real rooftop.

While I have my complaints, obviously, I still enjoyed this quirky film a lot, and it’s a total treat to see Jolie and Depp on screen together. Film goers will just have to accept that they are going to be pandered to for the film’s 109 minutes, but at least you know you’re going to have fun, wherever the film leads you.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Starring: Ben Barnes, Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, Will Poulter, Liam Neeson, Simon Pegg
Director: Michael Apted

Rated: 6/10

Since I was a kid I have always loved reading, and I have always felt drawn to the authors who can visualize something totally unique and bring it to the page. Among all of the books and authors I have read over the years though, few stories ignited my imagination like The Chronicles of Narnia.

Too bad the two, big Hollywood adaptations of the books were at their best what I would describe as absolutely mediocre.

Director Michael Apted, who previously helmed the little-known film Amazing Grace, has stepped in to direct the latest Narnia sequel, and while the mood isn’t quite as original as it was in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, or Prince Caspian, there is still much to be said about this trip into Aslan’s world.

Georgie Henley and Skandar Keynes star once again as Lucy and Edmund Pevensie, two average looking kids who are actually Narnian royalty. After their adventures in the last film ended, and they returned to our world, the children went back to their everyday lives in war-torn England, but they continued to dream of Narnia.

It’s not until they are living with their despicable cousin Eustace, played by Will Poulter, that they finally have an opportunity to return to their kingdom where they meet Prince Caspian once more, played by Ben Barnes. This time though, the children find themselves on the newly christened Dawn Treader, a ship built to find seven lords who have gone missing as a mysterious mist continues to claim ships everywhere.

Drawn into the world as well, Eustace struggles to come to terms with Narnia’s talking animals and his lowly place among the crew of the Dawn Treader, while the group of adventurers seek out the lords and their swords, which hold the key to ridding the world of the evil that is hidden at sea somewhere.

Along the way they encounter all kinds of magical creatures, including the invisible Dufflepuds, a dragon, and of course many strange and wonderful locations like the island caverns with water that turns anything to gold.

For all the magic though, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is a brisk adventure that never fully realizes the potential of this world. The mood of the film feels right, and Apted and his team capture some of the key elements of the book, but they never really found a way to bring each piece of the story together in a larger way. The scenes are so loosely strung together at times that they could almost be webisodes that follow a chain of events that never really ties together directly.

Like the book, the Christian allegory is also palpably ever-present. As a family film, whether you are Christian or not, the film is still fun, but The Chronicles of Narnia is unquestionably a Christian story and Apted brings out every nuance of that theme with careful attention. It’s not a preachy film, not really, but it’s not coy either.

Given the choice, I would still much rather recommend The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian than send people off to see The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. This is simply not a film that feels like it does justice to the book, and the film feels endlessly mediocre because it plays everything quite safe. For a magical story like The Chronicles of Narnia, that definitely feels like a disservice, but it’s still decent family entertainment if you’re dying to get the kids out to a cinema this weekend.

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