More than the verdicts, what intrigues me as a writer is- how does this one go wrong? It has such a good hook to begin with. A woman is tailed by both thugs and police as her criminal boyfriend has stolen some big money. On a train to Venice she befriends a naïve mathematics teacher and makes every one believe that he is this boyfriend of hers. And this ordinary, lonely guy cannot believe his luck- but only until things start going bad for him…. How can such a good commercial concept fail? And that too with the writing credits shared between three Oscar winners?
Yes, then you realise- the key is execution. The hook helps to pull the audience to the theatre. After that it is how the situations, scenes develop on screen. The problem with the tourist is that even though it works as a concept it doesn’t have a single memorable scene. The crux of this story is the developing love between this mysterious woman and the ordinary mathematics teacher. That is the backbone of the whole screenplay. But instead of a relationship which gathers momentum, we have something which jumps back and forth. Instead of soulful dialogue bringing out the vulnerabilities, here we have wise cracks and characters talking too smart and distant. There is no point blaming it on the lack of chemistry between Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie because the chemistry on screen is as good as the chemistry put on paper. Chemistry of the lead pair independent of the content of their current and previous projects is an urban legend.
And another thing is the twists. I don’t have much issues with the final twist (even though one can smell that one half an hour ahead). But the problem was again whether it was properly set up or not. And I was completely put off by one twist towards the middle of the movie.
And that was the biggest lesson for me from this movie. Just because we come up with some brilliant twists doesn’t mean that it would be good to the movie. Some twists, however clever they may be, can throw off the audience from the ride. For twists to work, they have to be really set up into the movie. We should feel that the twist was there because it was inevitable, not because the writer felt like playing clever. In Sixth Sense the twist in the end works because it explains a lot of things in the movie which the audience felt was strange but never felt sure was something relevant to bother about. ex: The Bruce Willis character never talking to his wife, no scenes between him and anyone else than the boy etc. In the same way, in Usual Suspects, the twist at the end works because the whole movie is a set up about how brilliant this criminal Keyser Soze is. You want to see how a movie is almost ruined by the obsession with twists? Watch Duplicity by Tony Gilroy (Bourne series, Michael Clayton).