Despite negative reception from the critics, the film was nominated for three Golden Globes, with a debate arising over the question as to whether it was a comedy or a drama. Henckel von Donnersmarck repeatedly stated it was neither genre, calling it "a travel romance with thriller elements," but that if he had to choose between the two, he would choose comedy.
A British woman, Elise Clifton-Ward (Angelina Jolie), is being followed by French Police who are working with Scotland Yard under the direction of Inspector John Acheson (Paul Bettany). Acheson has spent years hunting Alexander Pearce, a lover of Elise, who owes £744 million in back taxes, and is believed to have received plastic surgery to alter his appearance. At a Parisian cafe, Elise receives written instructions from Pearce: Board the train to Venice; pick out a man; let the police believe that he is Pearce. Elise burns the note, evades the police and boards the train.
On the train, Elise selects Frank Tupelo (Johnny Depp), who is apparently an American mathematics teacher from a community college in Wisconsin. She spends much time with him, seeming to start a romance. Meanwhile, the police have managed to salvage the ashes of her burned note and assembled them to extract information regarding her rendezvous, as well as her ruse. Aware of her location, but not of the ruse, an informer from the police station communicates to Reginald Shaw (Steven Berkoff), the mobster from whom Pearce stole $2.3 billion, that Pearce is traveling with Elise on the train to Venice. Shaw immediately proceeds to Venice.
Elise invites Frank to stay with her at her suite in the Hotel Danieli in Venice. Pearce leaves further instructions for Elise to attend a ball. Elise abandons Frank, who is then chased by Shaw's men. While trying to escape from them, Frank is detained by the Italian police, ostensibly for his own safety, only to have a corrupt inspector turn him over to Shaw's men in exchange for the bounty that has been placed on Pearce's head. Elise rescues Frank just before he is handed over, leading Shaw's men on an extended boat chase and finally escaping. She leaves Frank at the airport with his passport and money, urging him to go home for his own safety.
Elise is revealed to be an undercover Scotland Yard agent who was under suspension for her suspected sympathies with Pearce. She agrees to participate in a sting operation. At the ball, as Elise tries to spot Pearce in the crowd, an envelope is placed on the table in front of her, but the man (Rufus Sewell) disappears into the crowd. She tries to follow him through the crowd, but is stopped by Frank. Frank claims to be in love with Elise and invites her to dance with him. After the police surprise Frank, Elise reads the note. She leaves suddenly in her boat to be tailed by Shaw. Both parties are followed by the police. Frank is held handcuffed.
When Elise arrives at the destination, Shaw takes her prisoner, threatening to harm her unless she reveals the location of the stolen money. The police monitor the situation inside the rendezvous room through audio and video links. Despite Elise's peril, Acheson repeatedly turns down police requests to intervene with their snipers. While the police are occupied in monitoring the situation, Frank escapes from the police boat and confronts Shaw, claiming to be Pearce and offering to open the safe if Elise is allowed to leave safely. Shaw is skeptical and makes a counter offer that Frank should open the safe if he does not want to see Elise tortured by his men. Chief Inspector Jones (Timothy Dalton) arrives at the police stake-out, overrides Acheson, and orders the snipers to fire, killing Shaw and his men. To Elise's obvious pleasure, Jones lifts her suspension and terminates her employment.
Acheson, receiving a message that Pearce has been found near their position, rushes to find the police have detained an Englishman. The man, Lawrence Mason, says he is a tourist following written instructions received via his mobile phone, for which he has been receiving payments. Elise tells Frank that she loves him, but she also loves Pearce. Frank then suggests a "solution" to this dilemma; to Elise's surprise, he opens the safe by entering the correct code, thus revealing that he is really Alexander Pearce. When the police open the safe they find only one cheque: It is for £744 million. Acheson prepares to chase after Pearce, but Jones overrides him, reasoning that with the taxes now paid in full, Pearce's only crime is that he stole money from a now-dead gangster. Jones orders the case to be closed, much to Acheson's frustration. Frank (Alexander) and Elise sail away.
The project went through a number of directorial and cast changes. Originally, the film was set with Lasse Hallström, with Charlize Theron playing the lead. But Hallström left, allegedly over scheduling conflicts. Bharat Nalluri then came on, as did Tom Cruise, who was later replaced by Sam Worthington. When Jolie accepted her role, so did filmmaker Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck; but he left citing "creative differences" along with Worthington. After many names were considered, including Alfonso Cuarón, Henckel von Donnersmarck returned, re-wrote the script in two weeks, and shot the film in 58 days (including 2nd unit days), with Johnny Depp taking the lead.
Henckel von Donnersmarck was assisted by stunt coordinator Simon Crane who devised the boat action sequence. In the DVD director's commentary, Henckel von Donnersmarck recounts that the film's one action sequence was devised by Simon Crane to allow for the speed limitations imposed on boats in Venice. This speed limit was strictly enforced by the Venetian authorities and there was a policeman on set at all times to make sure no wave movement would let the pillars (on which the palazzi are built) be exposed to oxygen. Henckel von Donnersmarck and Crane felt that if one boat was towing the other, this could perhaps be a realistic reason for a slow speed chase.
Filming began in Paris with Jolie on February 23, 2010, and moved to Venice where Depp joined the production on March 1.
The whole film was made in only a little over 11 months, counting from the day Henckel von Donnersmarck came on board to re-write and direct to the day of the premiere in New York. The film had to be shot so quickly because Depp had to leave for Hawaii to start filming the fourth film of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. The reason post-production had to happen so quickly was because all commercially interesting release dates in 2011 were reserved for the potential start of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. The hotel featured in the film is the Hotel Danieli.
French minister of culture Frédéric Mitterrand visited Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck on the set of The Tourist, Place Colette.
The Tourist was filmed entirely in Paris and Venice. Locations, in narrative order, include:
ParisPlace des Victoires - Elise's apartment
Place Boieldieu, Opéra Comique - Elise's stroll
Café Le Nemours, Place Colette - the bike messenger's arrest
Place des Petits-Pères - where Elise loses the van and enters the shopping center
Galerie Vivienne - the shopping center Elise walks through
Passage Jouffroy - the shopping center Elise walks through.
Rue du 4 Septembre - where Elise enters the subway station in Paris
Gare de Lyon train station - where Elise boards the Freccia Rossa (which in the movie travels through Tuscany to Venice)
VeniceVenezia Santa Lucia railway station - where Elise and Frank get off the train separately.
Fondamenta San Giovanni (Cipriani) - Where Elise invites Frank on board the Danieli boat.
Palazzo Pisani Moretta - the outside facade and the interior of the "Danieli".
Hotel Danieli - all that was used of the actual hotel is the interior courtyard.
Palazzo Benzoni - the balcony of the "Danieli" where Frank smokes an electronic cigarette.
Marco Polo Airport - Where Reginald Shaw's (Steven Berkoff's) Gulfstream Jet lands.
Pontile Bucintoro, Magazini del Sale - where Reginald Shaw and his men get off the plane and take the boat to town.
The Venice Guggenheim Museum - the museum's terrace was transformed into an outdoor restaurant for the film. Here, they talk about the God Janus and being "down to earth".
Sant' Angelo Vaporetto Stop - The water bus stop where the Russian gangsters watch Elise and Frank kiss on the Benzoni balcony.
Mercato della Frutta, Pescheria - is the fruit market where Frank drops onto the awning.
Marciana Library- Police Station.
Fondamenta Rio di San Francesco della Vigna - Here Christian de Sica sells Johnny Depp to the gangsters.
Madonna dell'Orto - The big boat chase!
Scuola vecchia della Misericordia - is where the boat chase ends on the outside. And is where the inside of the big ball scene was filmed.
Palazzo Loredan, Instituto Veneto - The inside of Reginald Shaw's Casino.
Arsenale - Interpol's Venice Headquarters.
Piazza San Marco - Frank/Alexander smokes his first real cigarette.
Fondaco dei Turchi- where Elise enters the ball, and where the Interpol's and Reginald Shaw's boats are waiting.
Palazzo Zeno - "Frank Tupelo" climbs over the balcony of Palazzo Zeno to enter Alexander Pearce's apartment.
Villa Effe, Giudecca - Alexander Pearce's apartment with view of the Piazza San Marco. It is at Villa Effe that the final shootout takes place.
The film repeatedly uses symbolism revolving around the Roman god Janus.
At a dinner in Venice, Frank asks Elise about her bracelet, and she replies:
It's the Roman god, Janus. My mother gave it to me when I was little. She wanted to teach me that people have two sides. A good side, a bad side, a past, a future. And that we must accept both in someone we love.
The safe in Pearce's apartment is hidden behind a Janus-relief. Finally, it is revealed that Alexander Pearce has obtained a new face with the help of plastic surgery.
The film's Russian gangsters Virginsky (Igor Jijikine), Lebyadkin (Vladimir Orlov), Liputin (Vladimir Tevlovski), Fedka (Alec Utgoff) and Shigalyov (Mark Zak) all carry names from Fyodor Dostoyevsky's 1873 political novel Demons. First-credited screenwriter and director Donnersmarck has talked of his childhood obsession with the Russian writer, and the Dostoyevskian theme of corrupt police and government resonates throughout the entire film.
The Tourist received mostly negative reviews from film critics. It holds a 20% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 158 reviews, with a rating average of 4.3/10. The site's critical consensus states: "The scenery and the stars are undeniably beautiful, but they can't make up for The Tourist's slow, muddled plot, or the lack of chemistry between Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie." Metacritic has given the film a weighted average score of 37/100, based on 37 reviews, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".
Roger Ebert also gave the film 2 out of 4 stars. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave the film 0 out of 4 stars, and put the film on his list for the top 10 worst films of 2010.
Positive English-language reviews include the Daily Mail, which gave it 5 out of 5 stars, calling the film "a glossy, sophisticated, gloriously improbable romp — escapist fun for these austere times". The film also received good reviews in the German press.
Stephanie Zacharek, a Rotten Tomatoes Top Critic, listed the film as one of her "10 Best Movies of 2010." She called it "a visually sensuous picture made with tender attention to detail and an elegant, understated sense of humor". Casey Burchby of DVD Talk acknowledged that the movie was "beautifully shot by the accomplished Oscar-winner John Seale," but that the "hastily-prepared film does not care one iota about its characters." Alex Zane of The Sun said, "If you sit back, and enjoy the eye candy of the stars and locations, at least one cold winter night might fly by."
At the 2011 Golden Globe Awards, Ricky Gervais made fun of the film while he was presenting. In a scripted, fictional encounter written by Gervais and Merchant, Johnny Depp questioned Gervais following the incident on the show, Life's Too Short. Depp reminded Gervais that the film has been very successful and had grossed $278 million. This dig from Depp was aimed at Gervais' two Hollywood films he had filmed at that point in his career, which were Ghost Town and The Invention of Lying. The films grossed $27 million and $32 million respectively.
The film was nominated for three Golden Globe Awards: Best Musical or Comedy, Depp for Actor Musical or Comedy and Jolie for Actress Musical or Comedy. The fact that a film originally promoted as a romantic thriller was nominated for the comedy category garnered the film and the Golden Globes considerable mockery. It was later revealed that the film was originally submitted by the studio as a drama, but Henckel von Donnersmarck then told the HFPA that the film should be categorized as a comedy. HFPA President Phil Berk noted that "Given the differing opinions, we asked the studio to screen the film for us in advance, and collectively, we decided that the elements of preposterous fun lent the film more to a comedy than a straight drama category."
The soundtrack CD of The Tourist was released on December 21, 2010.