PG-13 for sexual innuendo and violence. It's so bad, because I thought my kid couldn't watch it because of the sexual jokes, but was totally cool with her watching something where a man and wife try actively murdering each other for the length of a feature film. Yeah, I live in America. There's also some mild language. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Doug Liman
I actually skipped yesterday. I know. I don't know why I want to write these blogs sometimes. I know that I have a readership. I write that out because it helps me really believe it. But there are days that I don't want to write about Mr. & Mrs. Smith. There's nothing particularly wrong with the movie. I even have a read on the film that would give me something to write about. It's just that my brain gets all foggy and sometimes the tea is too hot to drink, so I can't wake up. Regardless, I should write about this movie so I continue to find value in the Internet.
There are a couple places that I want to go with writing about Mr. & Mrs. Smith, at least this version of the movie as opposed to the Alfred Hitchcock rom-com. (A thing that exists.) But the first thing that I associate with this movie is something it has in common with Mission: Impossible III: the stars of the movie overshadow the story. With Mission Impossible III, Tom Cruise had just done that "jump on the couch" thing on Oprah. It was that time that we all thought that Tom Cruise was crazy. Some of you still probably hold him in that regard, so I won't go too deep into that. But I remember when I saw the movie, I couldn't see Ethan Hunt. All I saw was that Tom Cruise, the crazy man with all of the memes of him shooting lightning at Oprah, was on the screen. I liked the story and I thought it was pretty well made. But I couldn't get past the idea that Tom Cruise was bigger than the role on screen. The same thing is true with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
Their former marriage was the stuff of tabloids. It was a big deal and sometimes is still considered a big deal. Even at the time, people were choosing sides between Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aniston. Me, I'd like to say that I don't care about such things. I pretend that I'm above it and to a certain extent, I am. But even me, who honestly doesn't care about celebrity relationships outside of the failed marriage of Amy Poehler and Will Arnett, can't watch Mr. & Mrs. Smith without that knowledge of the real world coloring it. Even when the movie was made, it was capitalizing on their tabloid status. Not only had Brad Pitt left Jennifer Aniston for Angelina Jolie, but he was making a big action tentpole movie capitalizing on the drama. Here I am, in the early days of 2022, knowing that Pitt and Jolie don't really work it out and now I'm watching a movie where they shoot at each other about how much their marriage is terrible. There's life imitating art and then there's art writing life. It is awfully distracting. But the movie still works, despite the fact that my brain can't keep performing a Pop-Up Video about their real world marriage.
But the other thing is that Mr. & Mrs. Smith might be a solid piece of evidence on the whole high-v-low art argument. There's nothing really all that artistic about Mr. and Mrs. Smith. It was one of those movies that was meant to move popcorn. I know what Marty Scorsese has to say about these kinds of movies. After all, what are the Marvel movies if just really lucrative low-art. But to criticize Mr. & Mrs. Smith as a weak film because it doesn't aim for those high levels might be a mistake. It really does feel like an apples and oranges situation. How can I compare Mrs. & Mrs. Smith to something like Umberto D? They approach cinema so differently, that it is almost like a grudge fight between them. So when I start gushing about why this movie mostly works, please be aware that I look at this movie from a very different perspective than I do the majority of my Criterion DVDs.
This movie is actually one of my father-in-law's favorite movies. I'm not actually sure if he knows I have it. My mother-in-law was cleaning out the DVDs and I rescued some before they hit the curb. I know that this was in there, but no one said anything about me taking it. (Note: If any of my in-laws need this movie back, just consider it being safe at my house, ready to be returned to its original home at any time.) When I grabbed it, it's not like I had grand expectations for the film. I had seen it in theaters originally and remembered that I had a pretty good time. But I tend to watch things differently knowing that I have to write about them later on. Keeping that in mind, there's actually something kind of important when watching the film. It's not like the film's allegory is well hidden. Heck, Simon Kinberg, the writer of the film, (I KNOW!) has the therapist office scenes in there to verbalize what is happening through the action. But he kind of does have an interesting message that is still pretty darn functional: marriage takes work.
I don't know if I really need to wade out into deep water to state this, but we don't really know our spouses when we marry them. At least most of us don't. I knew my wife for nine years before we got married. Sure, when I proposed, we were only dating for less than a year. My wife told me that I needed to propose quickly and I'm smart enough to know to listen to her when she thinks something is important. But the extended metaphor of two spies on different sides actually really works to describe marriage. With John and Jane, they make a lot of assumptions about who the other person is. While they go into their marriage with true emotional feelings for the other person, there is an element of convenience for both parties. The other person would be gone for work often, so it makes it easy to be a spy under this household. Never is there a discussion of really getting to know the other person beyond sexuality. That becomes the root of their problem. Ironically, once the sexuality became the least important thing in their life and left the role of foundation, the two began running into actual, real-world problems. They found themselves saddled with problems and a partner that they didn't know or actively resented.
The ironic part is that most action movies tend to get pretty quiet once the action starts. The dialogue goes away, shy of quips and punchlines. But Kinberg and Liman actually make both characters quite verbose once the action begins. The drama elements are rooted in silence. Everything is small talk. Both people have walls up. Between the characters, there is no growth. Between the characters and the audience, there is almost a lack of characterization. We deal with archetypes: cold, miserable spies. But once the dramatic irony fades and the two characters are aware of the other's profession, it's odd that real dialogue actually starts. Now, if anything, this means that Mr. & Mrs. Smith is a celebration of arguments. There's that thought that marriage is all about being nice to the other person. But it is only once John and Jane start fighting that they actually discover who the other person is. I mean, it's appropriate that the movie takes place five or six years into a marriage. The person you thought was your spouse is someone very different and the person who argues is your spouse now. You just hope that the person who argues is the person you love as well. I am lucky. I know my wife and as angry as I can get at her, I love who she is at all times. That's what the movie is.
And the action is really good. It's really good and really fun. Honestly, there's something about Brad Pitt in this era of his career that made some fun movies. It has this Ocean's Eleven quality to it. It's this attention to detail while still making the movie fun. Is it life-changing? Probably not. But sometimes film is just about fun and Mr. & Mrs. Smith is definitely pretty fun.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.