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2005-06-16 11:11:08 (link)
Mr. & Mrs. Smith - Review

In the midst of the ink storm surrounding the alleged affair between stars Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, what could easily get lost is that their new movie, “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” actually represents everything that’s wonderful and exciting about Hollywood right now.

Not so long ago, when Hollywood was headlined by the likes of Sylvester Stallone and Meg Ryan, action and romance were not exactly the stomping grounds of cinema’s most daring auteurs. But a new era has arrived, where action is defined by the goofy vulnerability of Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker and the daring aesthetic of “Sin City” as much as it is by Vin Diesel, and romance is defined as much by the conceptual brilliance of “Eternal Sunshine” and honest edginess of “Sideways” as it is by Sandra Bullock or “Sweet Home Alabama.”

So it shouldn’t be so surprising that midway through 2005, the year’s best action movie and best romantic comedy might be one in the same with “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.”

The movie stars Pitt and Jolie as a bored married couple whose fiery initial romance has cooled into suburban doldrums, from dull meals to a vanishing sex life. Unbeknownst to each other, though, both are employed as top-level assassins with rival firms. The lid is blown off their quiet life when husband and wife are each assigned to kill the same man (Adam Brody of “The O.C.”). Their home and lives as they know them are obliterated when the couple go from quietly trying to kill each other to full-on war.

What makes “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” so bold and effective is that it crafts the most outlandish couple and circumstances possible with two of the world’s sexiest actors and ultimately creates a relationship story that’s entirely true and relatable. The movie finds accessibility in the midst of almost unsurpassed excess. The success in this regard begins and ends with its stars.

This is the rare movie that maximizes Pitt or Jolie, let alone both. For years, with the exception of projects like “Troy,” Pitt has taken gritty roles in movies like “12 Monkeys” and “Snatch” to circumvent his pretty boy image. But “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” is the first movie outside of “Ocean’s Eleven” to put his underappreciated acting talent to full use without doing anything to make him superficially freakish or bizarre. Meanwhile, Jolie’s only great asset has always been her strong command of a cartoonishly exaggerated sexuality. The two combine with outstanding chemistry, making for a very funny and oddly believable bored couple and a very compelling one when erupting into unrestrained adversaries.

It’s not shocking that this successful hybrid would come from director Doug Liman. In 1996, he burst onto the scene with romantic comedy “Swingers,” a minor classic, and in 2002, he delivered the best straightforward action movie of this decade in “The Bourne Identity.” With both of those movies, he managed to find glamour, style, sex, and humor in actors who weren’t perfectly beautiful or smooth.

So it makes sense that Liman is able to create such banality, boredom, and imperfection in Pitt and Jolie. Liman is a superlative action director and has a strong touch for comedy, but his newly demonstrated ability to combine both, and to do it with such humanity, marks a far rarer talent and a great deal of maturity gained since 1999’s “Go,” his emptily stylish earlier attempt at genre bending.

For a movie with huge stars, a nine-figure budget, and a premise that requires a great deal of violence, “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” shows tremendous sensitivity when it comes to details. Understanding the importance of building up slowly; carefully managing shock value; knowing how much screen time is just enough Vince Vaughn—these qualities reflect incredible deftness for such a boisterously large-scale movie.

The movie’s writing may lack subtlety at times—there’s an awful lot of articulate dialogue during gunfire, for instance—but subtlety isn’t really the point. “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” remarkably turns sexy, murderous outlaws into a parable for how everyday couples need to fight through boredom and communication problems. It’s pretty amazing when a movie can find genuine symbolism in massive explosions. And it’s indicative of the kind of movie that can emerge from such a golden era for action and romance movies and find such distinction for itself. “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” is the most idiosyncratically cute movie to come around in a long time, and one of the best summer blockbusters, too.

by Amos Posner


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