Year Released: 2005
Directed by: Doug Liman
Starring: Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Vince Vaughn, Adam Brody, Kerry Washington
(PG-13, 120 min.)
"The only charm of marriage is that it makes a life of deception necessary for both parties." Oscar Wilde
What does it say about our culture that the battle of the sexes is no longer just verbal banter but an all out assault with deadly weapons? And why are stars so publicly against guns, violence, and killing the ones reducing the set to an amo dump?
The fact that the script was written by Simon Kinberg as a master’s thesis at Columbia explains its adolescent banality but does not do much to lift my already sagging hopes for higher education.
Lets look at the premise. Said duo are in counseling over the quiet doldrums of a marriage a year or two short of the seven year itch –the year or two depends on their vying accounts about the length of their marriage. She says six, he says five, but the two are so cordially distant that they can’t even muster the enthusiasm to argue about that rather significant quibble.
What started with South American sizzle in Bogotá is now suburban ennui muted by soft creature comforts. Dinner is always at seven, Jolie’s Jane Smith Stepford perfect as she hands him his martini and the two sit down to an exquisite table and dinner. Even the typical domestic squabbles are oh so civilized. He disapproves of the olive green drapes she has bought without consulting him and asks her to take them back. She insists, in a tip of the iceberg peek at her stubborn side, that he will “get used to them.” And the titillating scene of Smith putting his wedding ring back on just as he pulls into the garage might have generated some misleading excitement, had not the whole plot of the movie, as usual, been disclosed in the trailer.
Because, unless you have been in Outer Mongolia for the past six months, you, of course, know that beneath this veneer of gentility, Mr. And Mrs. Smith are professional assassins. During our first glimpse at his alter ego, Pitt plays a cash spewing and slightly drunk patsy, irresistible to back room poker players waiting for “Lucky” to return to play his hand. While waiting for his mark to come back, Mr. Smith hemorrhages cash, but intimately “gets Lucky.” Meanwhile, the missus takes off her belted leather coat to greet her assignment in dominatrix faire. (Why do I wonder if this scenario has played out for real in Mrs. Smith’s off screen life?) Jolie does indeed look great throughout the movie, but in this scene she really turns heads. I’ll say no more.
Neither spouse knows nor even suspects the other's secret life. Tucked away in a granite and stainless steel kitchen to die for is a compartment worthy of James Bond’s Q. At the touch of a button, the microwave disappears to reveal Mrs. Smith’s arsenal. His is quartered beneath a tool shed. And you thought leaf blowers and riding mowers were the big boy suburban toys?
The ruse is up when the two rival agencies that employ them have the same mark, and Mr. And Mrs. Smith attempt blow each other up in the far reaches of the desert. They are both enraged that a usurper has encroached upon their kill zone, but only in surveying tapes do they learn each other’s true identities. According to assassin protocol, they have 24 hours to neutralize the competition.
The best of the movie is the short cat and mouse sequence when Smith returns home that night, knowing that she knows, concluding that her orders are the same as his. What will be her method? The perfect martini she places in his hand with a serene smile doesn’t seem so perfect any more, and he feeds it to a thirsty potted plant. A container of kerosene coyly sits on the kitchen counter as Smith bites into his favorite, meatloaf. “This tastes a little different tonight, honey,” he ventures. “Have you added something new?”
This verbal fencing was the grist of Hepburn and Tracy, Wayne and O”Hara fare, as well as those suspenseful forties epics, Suspicion andRebecca. It carried us through the films on a roller coaster of emotions as we waited for the lover’s reconciliation or the moment the killer would reveal his hand. But director Liman and writer Kinberg don’t seem comfortable dwelling on feint and parry; they obviously see the delicate art of fencing, verbal or otherwise, as no longer hip, and move on to the semi-automatics without a blink.
Somehow from here on the movie loses its lightness, and all of Brad’s charm and Angelina’s pouty smiles can’t take away the sour taste of cracking jokes about a husband and wife trying to kill each other. Maybe that’s because it happens enough in real life.
Mr. Smith is gentleman enough to hold his fire when he has his better half within its sights, but she does not pull her punches and he escapes by hair’s breath several times.
Do I find it disturbing that this gunplay ultimately becomes foreplay and the road to quintessential sex? Will Cosmopolitan be featuring it in their monthly rediscovery of how to please your man in the bedroom? Yes, and I hope not!
The final moments are a bloodbath for the poor working stiff fellow assassins trying to take out our couple. (Smith and Smith, or more appropriately, Smith and Wesson have now reconciled, thanks to the gunpowder sparks that have ignited their relationship much more effectively than marriage counseling.) In between reloading, dodging fusillades of bullets, but mainly mowing down faceless others, they share trade secrets and confessions. He has taken out about 50 or 60, but who’s counting. Apparently she is, for Mrs. Smith proudly claims 312 satisfied customers. And neither has lost a blink of sleep over it.
Even Macbeth laments that he has murdered sleep, and once hardcore killer Lady Macbeth confesses that all the perfumes of Arabia cannot wash the blood from her hands. And sure, 007 had a license to kill –at least the assassins in Her Majesty’s Service were under some bureaucratic constraints – and he did so without any apparent twinges of guilt. Bond seduced his enemies with as much expertise and panache as his sometimes partners, and then terminated the enemy lovers with an appropriate but lethal pun. (My favorite is the dancing Mata Hari who sets him up for a bullet, which he foresees in time to turn her into its path, all without missing a beat of the samba. Then, as he deposits the body at a cocktail table, he quips to the couple sitting there, “She’s just dead.”)
The difference here is that there is not any pretense that the Smiths are under the belief or illusion that they are taking out bad guys. They are not doing their jobs to save merry old England or the world, at that rate. So, we are left with a particularly bankrupt plot and personnel.
And, Brad and Angelina, all the goodwill trips to Africa, the campaigning against American aggression or killing innocent civilians in war, do not compensate for lending your glamour and prestige to a film that makes killing for its own sake cool and a sexual turn on.
One of the lines in Mr. And Mrs. Smith that critics have been groaning over is Pitt’s quip when a blast takes out a large piece of plasterboard instead of him. “Your shot’s as bad as your cooking,” he taunts his wife.
And among the confessions exchanged as the two reveal the layers of deceit they have glued upon themselves like two gaudy piñatas is that Mr. Smith has never really liked Mrs. Smith’s cooking. She, of course, rejoins, that she herself has never prepared an ounce of the dishes set to table. So outsourcing raises its ugly head even in the spy world.
In spite of culinary conflicts, the two have reconciled. Pitt’s final comment, mouthed in typical bad boy style to the by-the-numbers therapist, is that their sex life is now a ten. Perhaps a hundred bodies have littered the home improvement store where the final shootout occurs, and I won’t venture to estimate the pounds or price of the spent ammunition – but what price can you put on domestic bliss and perfect sex?
To ensure the future of all this hard earned marital tranquility, though, Mrs. Smith had better learn how to make her husband’s favorite, meatloaf. And I advise against trying to make it more appealing by saucing it with some handy kerosene.
Almost Classic Meatloaf Recipe
- 2 cups shredded hash brown potatoes
- 1 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 1/2 cup ketchup
- 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 pounds lean ground beef
- Cooking spray
- 1/3 cup ketchup
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine potatoes, bread crumbs, onion, ketchup, mustard, oregano, salt, eggs and garlic in a large bowl and stir mixture well. Crumble ground beef over potato mixture and stir just until blended. Shape mixture into an 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-inch loaf. Place loaf in an 11-by-7-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray.
Spread 1/3 cup ketchup over top of loaf. Bake at 375 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the loaf registers 160 degrees. Let stand 5 minutes before slicing.
Recipe Source: Ilona, Boise, Idaho USA