Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's The Lives Of Others was a minor masterpiece - an award-winning film that completely blew us away with its freshness and gave us a glimpse on lives and cinema of a particular time. As Herr von Donnersmarck's fame takes him to Hollywood to work with the biggest names there, the resultant film feels like a throwback to a simpler time without caring to bring anything fresh to it.
Johnny Depp - playing a regular man after what seems like ages - plays Frank Tupelo, a grieving widower touring Europe, where he meets Elise (Angelina Jolie) on a train. She is being followed by what is ostensibly Interpol (mostly the awesome Paul Bettany), as she is known to be the lover of a mysterious accountant who is wanted by the British Government for more than 700 million dollars in taxes.
Elise has been contacted by her lover to go on the train and find an unsuspecting person to deflect the Interpol, and she immediately zeroes in on Frank. When they alight from the train, it is revealed that the police is aware of Frank being a red herring, and they back off. At the same time, Shaw (Steven Berkoff), a gangster, is now also on their tale unaware that Frank does not know anything.
It is at this point that the film becomes a chase movie, with a lot of the action comedy bits that seemed to fill the previews. What the previews failed to give a sense of was how Hitchcock-ian this all is. The makers are acutely aware of their Hitchcock overtones, and make the most of them - and probably falter at the same point.
Newer - and likely less talented - filmmakers from all across the world have emulated Hitchcock and made a journey through the same old riffs tiresome. With no edge or genuine peg to hand their action on, the film-makers (the writers are equal culprits) seem to coast along on general awareness of the Hitchcock-like universe they inhabit.
This isn't enough by any means, of course - often the flick feels like a harmless though only too-familiar film. It is well-shot, and a few action sequences are quite engaging - but overall you can't seem to shake off the sense of ennui - especially if you have seen the end twist coming (as you will be able to if you have seen any thriller in the past 5 years).
The pacing of the film is top-notch. And while the structural problems of the subject and treatment, being too familiar, don't go away, the turns and twists, as they come, are fun and engaging. This isn't the best thriller movie this year - far from it - but it is a fun, if a tad over-familiar, time at the cinemas.