Thursday, November 24, 2016

Theory Thursday: "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" (2005) is Overrated

Scene from Mr. & Mrs. Smith
Welcome to a weekly column called Theory Thursdays, which will be released every Thursday and discuss my "controversial opinion" related to something relative to the week of release. Sometimes it will be birthdays while others is current events or a new film release. Whatever the case may be, this is a personal defense for why I disagree with the general opinion and hope to convince you of the same. While I don't expect you to be on my side, I do hope for a rational argument. After all, film is a subjective medium and this is merely just a theory that can be proven either way. 

Subject: Allied opens in theaters this Wednesday.
Theory: Mr. & Mrs. Smith is overrated.

I am unsure if this is within itself controversial, but I have a generally favorable opinion of Brad Pitt as an actor. To me, he is one of those along the lines of George Clooney that has a generally high success rate with the movies they pick. I'm not saying he's perfect (I don't care for The Big Short or Killing Me Softly), but look at his filmography and not tell me that he's made enough good movies to qualify for an above average talent. Seriously, look at it: Twelve Monkeys, Fight Club, Snatch., Babel, Oceans Eleven, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Inglourious BasterdsThe Tree of Life, Burn After Reading, Moneyball, and 12 Years a Slave. He may have varying degrees of prominence in them, but that's the resume of a genuinely good actor. I don't care what you say.

With that said, Allied has been shrouded in a weird conspiratorial cloud that I am generally not interested in, but need to discuss in order for what I'm about to say to make sense. Sometime earlier this year, Pitt broke up with Angelina Jolie presumably over an affair with Marion Cotillard: his Allied co-star. With all of this said, one could read the film's romantic tissue as the formation of a new Hollywood bond. It's caused a controversy that has faced Pitt before when he broke up with Jennifer Aniston to date Jolie. I for one think that getting hung up on celebrity couples is a waste of time. They don't care about me, so why should I care about them? It should only matter when it impacts our enjoyment of art (I didn't see By the Sea, but its marketing did suggest that it was a break-up movie), which isn't often due to these people being paid to play fictional characters.

The issue comes when trying to assess Pitt's career without seeing the cinematic chapters. Even if Allied isn't the start of something new, one can see the Pitt/Jolie dynamic on full display and done in obvious fashion in director Doug Liman's Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Don't kid yourself. It was an infomercial for the Hollywood couple's dynamic that would be present throughout the next decade of pop culture. There's no denying that their influence definitely lead to some significant impact on how culture is seen. They were in some part activists who were ridiculed for adopting so many kids. Even Pitt's filmography began to take on more serious topics that explored America's relationship to politics, economics, and more. It is a fact made all the more humorous because his sole Oscar win was as a producer of 12 Years a Slave - a film where he arguably wasn't even among the 10 best actors in that story.

But there's the film itself and my unraveling of other controversies. I really don't like Mr. & Mrs. Smith. It's not because I hold some grudge against its stars. As I've stated, I find Pitt to be rather charismatic. However, Liman's film is a dull and tired attempt to make domestic drama into an espionage spy thriller while also serving as this meta commentary on Hollywood's new elite couple. After all, it was the height of both of them being on People Magazine's sexiest people alive lists. They were vital to pop culture. This film had to exploit that factor. The way to do it was to mix marriage counseling with action and comedy in which they play spies who turn hostile towards each other and eventually destroy the house. Oh yeah, and Vince Vaughn is there in case the violent comic relief wasn't enough.

In what is probably the more controversial opinion, I must admit that I never understood the appeal of Jolie as an actress. Yes, I understand her sex appeal. I don't however think it translates to her general charisma beyond being eye-candy. I think she does excellent work as a human being, but as a performer she has done little to convince me of her stature. I maybe like her in The Changeling, but the only great performance that I've seen of hers was in Girl Interrupted, which may in part be because of her supporting role status. Otherwise, movies like Maleficent and Salt strike me as subpar work that is probably undermined by the uninspired scripts and thus the performances suffer - much like Mr. & Mrs. Smith. She isn't one of those performers who can elevate her material. She merely needs good material to stand a fighting chance.

To be fair, I cannot see too many big celebrity couples being able to make this material work as anything better. Beyond the sexual chemistry, what does Pitt and Jolie really bring to the film that makes it authentic? They are, at best, fine - which even then is something I find to be generous. However, I find nothing exciting or fresh in the action scenes that are meant to embody the personal frustrations of a married couple. I don't even find their bickering to be all that engaging. To me, there's something hollow about the dynamic and something that is contradicted by the film's entire intent. Watching Pitt and Jolie play a spy couple is fine, but it's hard to relate to them as having the common struggles that would make the jokes land. They have sex appeal and a boatload of money. There's nothing deeper than that and the story is otherwise pretty stale and familiar.

I don't know that Mr. & Mrs. Smith has been regaled as a classic by any imagination, but I still find its lingering presence to be pretty frustrating. It's not a good movie in part because the cast isn't all that engaging. However, it's more of a problem because the script is more of a crutch meant to commercialize the hot new couple than serve as a story gifted to time. I genuinely can't stand this movie in ways that are visceral. Considering that I'm able to find the good in most any film, it's quite something when I find a film that I outright hate. It could be my disappointment in this as a Brad Pitt movie. It could also just be that it feels like there's nothing of value within these frames. It's a movie with nothing to say about marriage other than rich people get to do it on camera for money. I can only hope Allied has more going for it.

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