***/**** Image N/A Sound A Extras B-
starring Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Adam Brody, Kerry Washington
screenplay by Simon Kinberg
directed by Doug Liman
by Walter Chaw Having more to do with Alfred Hitchcock's screwball comedy of the same name than would initially appear, Doug Liman's Mr. and Mrs. Smith affects the sexy, light-hearted, insouciant derring-do of the BBC's "The Avengers" and, paced as it is by Liman's trip-hammer way with an action scene, makes as strong a case for a franchise as any. (At the least, between Go, The Bourne Identity, and now Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Liman should become the first choice of anyone looking for an action helmer.) If the early going is often awkward, blame the complexity of the premise and its requirement that it stay absolutely airtight while setting up its preposterous premise: two of the world's top assassins living in holy matrimony without knowing that the other is a killing machine.
Or not entirely preposterous, if you consider that Mr. and Mrs. Smith is the natural successor (like The Bourne Identity before it) to the '60s-era James Bond films, which were more interested in sex-play than in the technological euphemisms for sex to which the series has succumbed. Bond reaching for a condom in the plague-squeamish '80s cycle declared the end of an era only now resurrected by Liman's ability to sublimate being in serious heat into driving fast cars and shooting black guns. He shoots films like John Woo used to shoot films, and he works in the same loam of virtuous men seeking their identity through acts of grace and love--or, in this instance, of finding a soul mate amidst a carefully--some would say religiously--choreographed riddle of bullets.
John (Brad Pitt) and Jane (Angelina Jolie) meet-cute during the collapse of a South American country. He thinks she's a computer programmer and she thinks he's in construction. As their lives devolve into a matrimonial state of quiet desperation, one exacerbated by the inability of either to ever discuss their jobs in that unique way that married people have of abusing one another, you get the sense that they're thinking of killing each other even before their respective organizations require it of them. The reveal happens midway through the film (much faster in the previews, alas), after John and Jane have each had a chance to demonstrate how they seduce men with their charm and good looks (every man wants Pitt to be his drinking buddy and Jolie to be his Madonna/whore), they're pitted against one another in a sequence that rivals the last hour of The War of the Roses in domestic deconstruction. Early arguments over new curtains and passing the salt play as tight subtext here and are paid off in a quiet "I missed you today, honey," and "I missed you, too." Clever to the point of dry, Mr. and Mrs. Smith astonishes a little in that for as irresponsibly exhilarating as it is for long stretches, its best parts are the little ones where John and Jane realize that while almost every marriage develops a layer of dust, their dust has settled on something as quaint and bedrock as love.
Though it's too much to call Mr. and Mrs. Smith an unqualified success (the taint of too many fingers have left impressions everywhere), there remains about it an air of sophistication that enchants. It reminded me of classic Bond, sure, but in its couple dynamics it conjures up the ghosts of The Thin Man series: demigods at play and armed with a surplus of wit, a wealth of supernatural confidence, and the super-human ability to look fabulous at all times. What the appearance of this film at this moment says about the United States of 2005 and the United States of the Depression-into-WWII is a little disquieting, to be sure--it's a casual/cool, all-conquering entertainment set as a carnival mirror against the economic struggles of most Americans as we move, again, into armed conflict across the world. (Same goes for Pitt's two Ocean's films.) How better to push the fears of the day to the back than before a flickering entertainment as cunning as this one? It's smarter than it has to be about men and women (a section centered around sexual partners is spot-on and meta to boot), surprisingly free of the rancour that marks so many so-called blockbusters nowadays, and, above all else, it's fun. Hallelujah, it's fun. Originally published: June 10, 2005.
|Above: Mr. & Mrs. Smith; below: the trailer for The Sentinel|
by Bill Chambers Back when DVD was in its infancy and FILM FREAK CENTRAL was just another fledgling movie site, Fox became only the third studio to add us to their screener distribution list. Since that time, we have in fact reviewed more Fox titles than those of any other label, somewhere in the neighbourhood of 300; since this review marks our 1600th, that means approximately 18% of all the reviews in our DVD archive are of Fox product. So I can't help but take their sudden contempt for critics personally: Mr. & Mrs. Smith, like Because of Winn-Dixie before it, has "PROPERTY OF 20TH CENTURY FOX PUBLICITY DEPT." burned into the lower half of the image for the duration of the feature. Less explicably, the video-based supplements bear this same proprietary admonition, only in the centre of the screen, presumably to draw out its Orwellian flavour. You'd think Fox would encourage people to file share the trailer for their straight-to-DVD "Family Guy" movie, wouldn't you? The virus of promotion spreads faster that way.
While I realize we're entering a brave new world and companies need to protect their freshly vulnerable assets, I'm not sure that such an open display of distrust towards the press is the best preventative measure. Because of Winn-Dixie is a pretty lousy movie no matter how you slice it, yet I can say without hesitation that the invasive copyright warning put me in a bad mood from the get-go and thus predisposed me to disliking it. Maybe we're spoiled, but that's sort of irrelevant--you wouldn't tell a restaurant critic to eat his soup even though there's a fly in it just because it's on the house. Furthermore, you wouldn't blame him for the fly; the studios are looking for scapegoats because of the embarrassing fact that most bootlegs are sourced back to a mole within the company.
So our compromised copy of Mr. & Mrs. Smith inhibits a legitimate assessment of the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and fosters apathy for the remainder, though I was very impressed with the 5.1 audio, particularly the DTS option, which had me checking for shrapnel. Director Doug Liman and starry-eyed screenwriter Simon Kinberg yak it up on another track that's disappointingly gossip-free, although Liman does admit that his constant tinkering of the little moments is what led to a famously protracted shoot. ("This is a movie that should by all rights be awful," Liman says at one point.) Money--it's always shocking to hear them describe Mr. & Mrs. Smith as a cash-strapped production--and Vince Vaughn are motifs that run through this and two other commentaries, the first pairing producers Lucas Foster and Akiva Goldsman, the second teaming editor Michael Tronick, production designer Jeff Mann, and visual effects supervisor Kevin Elam (Elam recorded separately).
Elsewhere on the disc we get an OK promotional featurette-cum-making-of (8 mins.) that eventually narrows its focus to the sequence in which John accidentally fires a bullet through Jane's windshield. Liman reiterates the commentary anecdote that this centerpiece started out as an expensive, elaborate car chase while Foster credits Brad Pitt with innovating the gun gag. (Both Pitt and Angelina Jolie are conspicuously absent.) Sadly, none of the three deleted scenes include additional footage of Keith David's or Angela Bassett's enigmatic characters, but instead can be summed up as more Vince Vaughn, Jane physically discovering John's bunker, and an extended version of the final shootout. These are in 5.1 and 16x9-enhanced but, again, obstructive watermarks here defeat the obvious care and effort that went into mastering them. Teaser and theatrical trailers and a soundtrack spot for Mr. & Mrs. Smith and an "Inside Look" at the upcoming Michael Douglas thriller The Sentinel round out the platter. The commonly-circulated anti-piracy PSA as well as a Fox promo reel cue up on startup. Originally published: November 7, 2005.
*Also available in fullscreen.