When the Tourist Isn’t the Tourist

When the Tourist Isn’t the Tourist

New espionage thriller charts a different European adventure

By T.T. Stern-Enzi

Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp in 'The Tourist'

Milo Weaver, a CIA black-ops field agent known as a “Tourist” in the trade, is a late-30-something man without a home base or colleagues he can really trust, who meets an American (an actual tourist) while in the middle of a mission. Six years later, they find themselves married, although Weaver comes to realize that tourism is a way of life that never dies.

Olen Steinhauer’s book, optioned by George Clooney, melds international politics of the new millennium and bluntly rendered action sequences with briskly paced travelogues (captured perfectly to reflect a tone of anonymity), and enough relationship drama to humanize a protagonist that audiences have come to know too well. Intriguingly for old school James Bond fans, Weaver, during his attempt to leave tourism behind, recalls the iconic spy at the end of “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” if Bond (George Lazerby) had been able to drive further towards the horizon with his new bride.

So, is Hollywood pulling a gender bender here, slipping Angelina Jolie into the Weaver role in an adaptation of Steinhauer’s “New York Times” bestseller?

Well, the answer isn’t as simple as that. The short answer is no because “The Tourist,” the film directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (“The Lives of Others”) and co-written by Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects,” “Valkyrie”), is actually a remake of “Anthony Zimmer,” writer-director Jerome Salle’s 2005 French thriller about a man seeking to outrun international police and the Russian mob who, through other agents, enlists an unwitting tourist to assume his identity. Here, the tourist is an American (Johnny Depp) and Angelina Jolie plays Elise Clifton-Ward, the mysterious femme fatale who bats her dark eyes at him on a train and sets him on a suspenseful European excursion. The remake obviously narrows its focus down to the relationship between the tourist and the femme and thus provided cause for the title.

Combine the simplicity of the handle with the broad appeal of Depp and Jolie and you’ve struck box office gold, had to be the thinking of the studio executives flashing the greenlight for this project. Jolie is the go-to female action heroine with dramatic chops (“Salt,” “Mr. & Mrs. Smith”), despite the fact that as the three aforementioned movies attest, she has had less luck truly establishing herself as a sustainable franchise player. The hope is that Depp’s wildcard presence will attract return visits during the holiday season.

But what about that other “Tourist,” the one with the misfortune of arriving on the scene too late?  Steinhauer, in the mold of Ian Fleming and John le Carre, didn’t simply latch onto a name for the sake of convenience; he created a division of labor within the world of espionage and set it at odds against the established order as well as similar upstarts like the Department of Homeland Security on the post 9/11 global scene. What happens to this world-weary traveler?

It is likely that somewhere down the line, when the option on the book gets exercised (and it will because Steinhauer has already penned a sequel, which means there’s ready-made franchise potential), some Hollywood player will scan the list of possible Milo Weavers and dream up a winning twist by casting Jolie.

Such a journey can only made in La La land.

Reach DCP film critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at T.T.Stern-Enzi@daytoncitypaper.com

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