Tuesday, 8 March 2011

The Tourist and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps: Two Underrated 2010 Films

The Tourist

The Tourist is the latest film from director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, who directed my favourite film of 2006 (The Lives of Others). The Lives of Others was adored by critics. The Tourist, an old-fashioned (I’m talking 60’s) adventure film starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, was panned by critics. In my opinion, it is not deserved.

Sure, The Tourist is silly, illogical and predictable, with a wildly over-the-top score. It also suffers from the Christopher Nolan implausible-planning syndrome. But compared to most of the junk that passes for action and adventure films these days, I found The Tourist calming and enjoyable. I mean, how bad can a Johnny Depp adventure film shot almost entirely in Venice really be?

Critics were not impressed with Johnny’s performance. Johnny plays an average-Joe math teacher from Wisconsin who gets caught up in a wild adventure in which he is hunted by both criminals and IRS agents. Playing it straight can’t be easy for Johnny and, while it’s not his most convincing performance, I thought he handled it fine. Critics thought Johnny was too straight, but if he had played it any lighter (with a wink and a nod), the predictable plot would have been even more predictable. And Johnny’s co-star? I am not an Angelina fan, but I thought she was fine too.

So if you are looking for a lightweight piece of escapist enjoyment, I would not hesitate to recommend this fun adventure film. I give it a solid ***.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

More surprising to me was the mediocre critical reception of Oliver Stone’s sequel to his 1987 Wall Street. Despite a number of critically-acclaimed films, I think Stone is an underrated director and the critical response to Money Never Sleeps is an example of this. I’ve always thought Stone was one of the best directors out there. With its gorgeous cinematography, great score, generally excellent acting (Frank Langella and Susan Sarandon are exceptional in small roles) and solid direction, Money Never Sleeps was, for me, a better film than its predecessor.

Michael Douglas returns as Gordon Gekko, the greedy Wall Street dealer who isn’t worried about who he steps on to get to the top (an apparently common problem on Wall Street). In Money Never Sleeps, Gekko has just been released from the eight years he spent in prison for his various crimes (the ones depicted in Wall Street). The fallout from the 2008 financial crisis reveals how unlikely such incarceration actually is. That crisis forms the background to Money Never Sleeps and Gekko does a fair bit of sermonizing as he analyses the crisis (the emotional version of 2010’s best documentary, Inside Job). So did Gekko change in prison? At first it appears that he did, as he enlists the help of his daughter’s fiancĂ©, Jake (played by Shia LaBoeuf), to try to win his daughter back. Gekko’s daughter, Winnie, played as well as I have come to expect from Carey Mulligan, wants nothing to do with her father, whom she blames for her brother’s suicide. Will Gekko change her mind? Was enlisting the help of Jake a good idea? I’ll let you find out, but let’s just say that the way this plot element is played out is key to the critics’ negative opinions of the film.

I agree that the film is flawed (e.g. LaBoeuf’s relatively weak performance in the lead role) and that the ending veers well off the rails. And yet, most of the film’s flaws, including the ending, point to one particular directorial decision, a decision that may be as positive as it is problematic. What is that decision? It’s to play this anti-Wall Street film in a soft and hopeful way instead of Stone’s more typically angry angle. Money Never Sleeps seems to say that while greedy Wall Street giants may be running and ruining the world and messing with the lives of millions of people, we should not give up hope. Maybe someday, somehow they will wake up and think about future generations the way Gekko does (sort-of). Maybe even if they don’t go to prison, they will lose the respect of the masses and find a measure of humility. Because who can believe these men (and they seem to be all men) are really happy? When the young up-and-comers like Bud Fox (Wall Street) and Jake Moore go down that road, it doesn’t take long for them to understand that their very souls are on the line.

If you want anger, watch Inside Job. If you want hope, with some New York City romance on the side, watch Money Never Sleeps. I give it ***+. My mug is up for both these films.


  1. I love reading these reviews, and if I rarely comment, it is because I rarely have the opportunity (or money) to see many movies. When I read these reviews, it helps me better decide on which movies to spend my pennies! Thanks to both Vic and Walter for your input!

  2. The Tourist is based on a 2005 French film called Anthony Zimmer. Anthony Zimmer is a much more serious film than The Tourist (so no one would have complained about Johnny's acting there). It is also much simpler, more slow-moving and more thoughtful (no surprise there). It takes place entirely in France, which is not a bad thing. Overall, I think Anthony Zimmer is a better-made film, but I'm not sure which one I enjoyed more (which is a compliment to the remake).