Jolie and Depp traipse through Tourist trap, Fair Game is better than fair

by Mark Burger


The Tourist is anoccasionally stylish,almost completely forgettablespy thriller thatsquanders any potentialon-screen electricitybetween Angelina Jolieand Johnny Depp bynot giving them anythingof interest to do.Fans of the two leadsnumber enough to possibly make The Tourista box-office hit. After all, in 2010 Jolie scoredwith Salt and Depp with Alice in Wonderland.Neither of those films was worthy, and TheTourist is a push in the wrong direction. Depp plays Frank Tupelo, the title tourist,traveling through Europe to nurse a brokenheart. Jolie plays Elise, essentially a variationof her character in Salt, a foxy femme fatalewho first encounters Frank, one might say, asstrangers on a train. Nods to, and aspirationstoward, Alfred Hitchcock are evident throughout.But The Tourist falls flat. Frank and Elise wind up in Venice, whichlooks just fine, but screenwriter/directorFlorian Henckel von Donnersmarck (whosefeature debut was the Oscar-winning The Livesof Others) never finds a foundation for thesebush-league spy-jinks. There’s little suspenseand almost no story here, just a succession ofplot twists that are frequently exasperating andjust as frequently telegraphed. The entire affair is basically an excuse forJolie and Depp to admire each other’s looks,engage in pseudo-romantic banter and occasionallytangle with pursuers and other interestedparties, the likes of which include PaulBettany, Steven Berkoff, Rufus Sewell andone-time James Bond Timothy Dalton. There’slittle to work with here, but they did get a tripto Venice — isn’t that nice? The two leads, who sometimes seem hardlyto be in the same scene (doubles, anyone?),coast through the flimsy proceedings — andsometimes above it — on autopilot. Jolielooks smashing, Depp brings a scruffy charm,but The Tourist has the unmistakable feel of aproduct made only because the two leads hada window of availability between other, presumablybetter, projects.Secrets and lies figure prominently in directorDoug Liman’s Fair Game, an intelligent andcredible example of big-screen espionage, all themore so because it happens to be rooted in fact.Fair Game is the story of Valerie Plame(Naomi Watts), the undercover CIA operativewhose cover was blown during the 2003 USinvasion of Iraq, in which the pursuit of weaponsof mass destruction was a top priority inthe Bush administration’s military policy.Plame’s findings, and those of several (ifnot most) of her CIA colleagues, indicated thatthere were no WMDs. The subsequent facts, of course, speak forthemselves — loudly, clearly and depressingly.This incident was no pinnacle in the annals ofAmerican politics or American intelligence.Quite the opposite.Not only was Plame hung out to dry, essentiallyby the White House — which severelyjeopardized her ongoing operations overseas— but her husband, former ambassador JoeWilson (Sean Penn), was castigated and brandedas a traitor in some circles. In a climate of fear,distrust and sometimes misguided (and unquestioning)patriotism, their careers and lives wererocked by the fact that they told the truth andmade to pay for it. Based upon the books The Politics of Truthby Wilson and Fair Game by Plame, the filmconcisely covers much of the ground played outin the headlines, yet what deepens the dramais the personal side of the story, the strain upontheir marriage. This marks the third time that Watts and Pennhave worked together, following 21 Grams(2003) — for which she earned an AcademyAward nomination (he won for Mystic River thatyear) — and The Assassination of Richard Nixon(2004). They were excellent in those films, andare so again here. There’s a comfortable rapportbetween the two that easily establishes theironscreen marriage.The supporting cast is peppered with familiar(and reliable) faces: Sam Shepard (brieflyseen as Valerie’s father), Bruce McGill, NoahEmmerich, Michael Kelly, Tom McCarthy,Brooke Smith and David Andrews as WhiteHouse advisor Scooter Libby, the principalantagonist in these proceedings. Fair Game is undoubtedly being positionedas Oscar bait for Watts and Penn, and in neithercase would it be undeserved. It’s their performanceswhich bring a complex story into a clear,credible focus. This is a worthy effort all around,a dramatization of history with the sting of truthin its telling.