Note: “Here Be Spoilers” is a new department of my blog, one that contains the more salients notes and ideas surrounding movies, books, and other media — past and present — that interest me. My goal is to contribute at least once a week to this department in particular. Thanks, SW
Overview: “Mr.& Mrs. Smith” should have done much better at the box office, because it’s actually two really good movies in one; those movies definitely appeal to two specific kinds of movie-going demographics; and it’s actually a much more sophisticated movie than we’re giving it credit for.
Here’s the plot, and it’s actually not bad: Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie (in the movie that made them a couple, and the chemistry here is palpable) play married professional assassins—except that neither of them knows the actual profession, or even real identity, of the other. But they’re both good: facile with guns, bombs, knives, close-in hand-to-hand combat, they both intimately know how to dispassionately dispatch their fellow humans, and the movie takes great pains to show their competence in this area. Meanwhile, both think they are using the other as a “cover” while they pursue their professions, which, also unbeknownst to the other, are for competing organizations that vie for highly lucrative, highly competitive contracts. The stakes are high in the shadow world of global killing agencies, and John and Jane Smith (heh-heh) are the best in the biz, though, again, neither knows this about the other. Thus, the action portion of the movie designed to appeal to the guy-movie bro in your life.
And, like all marriages in which authenticity is out the window, they are having trouble: the movie opens with them sniping at each other in couples therapy. Sure, they’re satisfied professionally, and they have all the trappings of a very beige, non-descript suburban upper-middle class marriage. We see their tense, terse, passive-aggressive commentary when discussing the new curtains or the new sofa, the dissatisfaction with their surroundings mirroring their overall dissatisfaction. These moments are offset by their otherwise silent meals interrupted by obsequies, platitudes and compliments-through-gritted-teeth attempting to masquerade as actual connection, and failing. But this is actually a far cry from where they were at the beginning of their marriage: the movie shows us, in a charming flashback, how they met, how romantic everything once was, how sexy, lovely, and fun it all was. No doubt each character thought he or she was getting a bargain: a great cover for their real jobs, cover-partners that they assumed they would actually enjoy being with. But all that’s gone: miscommunication, not listening, not relating, dissembling and inauthenticity prevail—you know, everything Rom-com, chick-flicks are made of, at least in the beginning.
Long story short: they find out about each other, primarily because both of their competing organizations have discovered their marriage, sent them on the same job, in the hopes that they’d each take the other out. An initially tense reunion back at home results in the requisite Hollywood cliché chase scene throughout the city, bombs and cars and gunfire exploding around them amidst their cell phone conversations as they communicate their credulity at being betrayed and duped by the other, and both their desires to remain professionals and see the job (of killing each other) through. Their chase leads them back home, where they set about immediately destroying it as they hunt each other from room to room with some nice dialogue flourishes (“Your aim is as bad as your cooking, sweetheart,” John chuffs Jane as bullets from her semi-automatic narrowly miss him), and that visual metaphor—the underlying truth of their relationship ripping their house—and their former lives—apart works just as nicely here as it did in the final scene of [spoiler!!!] “The War of The Roses,” which finds Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner clinging for their lives to a chandelier—the “false light” of Romantic love—having chased each other up on to it before it — and they — come crashing down, ending their marriage and their lives.
A Mexican standoff: guns in hand aimed at the hearts of each other (doesn’t miss a beat, this director), neither John nor Jane has the capacity to pull the trigger. Despite everything, the love and respect are still there. The semi-clothed make-up-sex scenes are white-dwarf hot, to be sure (seriously, you understand why these two got together in real life). And in the ensuing pillow-talk, they joke and laugh about how they dissembled one another, as the pretenses come crashing down.
Movie over, right? I mean, this is where most rom-coms cum action movies would end, yes? But “Mr.& Mrs. Smith” is actually a much more sophisticated movie than it would initially appear. The nice plot point that propels the movie along is that neither is dead, and both their respective organizations want them that way. Hence the forces that paid them both lucratively and sought out their services constantly are combining to, er, downsize them both. Boom: they’re on the run.
And here’s where the movie really brings home the theme of honesty, authenticity, and communication in relationships: with so many getaways and car chases to be navigated, so much gunplay, and explosions to avoid, we still see that, despite their newfound authenticity, they still aren’t on the same page. They are constantly negotiating and renegotiating their own respective ways and habits when it comes to “intelligence gathering,” sneaking inside buildings, firearms (“Why do I get the ‘girl’ gun?” Jane asks incredulously as John hands her the lower-caliber weaponry he thinks they’ll need to escape). The special-tactics hand signals, which no doubt work with members of their own respective teams, fall on, er, deaf ears here, as neither can interpret the others gestures. What the movie is suggesting is that, even for couples finally being authentic and shedding their pretenses, this newly discovered and no doubt welcome authenticity simply isn’t enough: you have to relearn those tics, predilections, habits, and strategies for communicating clearly, primarily because, well, now you’re dealing with a different person altogether.
The final sequence: teams of special tactics hit squads from their respective companies (dozens of them, with helicopters and other “black ops” technology) chase the harried couple into a large Home and Garden Center (think Home Depot, but with more “model” kitchens, bathrooms and living rooms – again, these symbols of domesticity and suburban bliss are no accidents). They dodge bullets and near-misses, and even more miscommunications from each other, finally getting shelter and a momentary reprieve from the attack in a wooden utility shed. Outside we can hear (and see) the forces gathering around them, laying in wait for the final attack, while inside we’re treated to what’s become the obligatory cinematic “Butch and Sundance” moment: some gallows humor, followed by what may be John and Jane’s final words to each other. In short, they’ve shed their last pretenses toward inauthenticity, as well as any illusions about what the future might bring.
But they’ve come too far with each other not to down without a fight: they burst from the shed firing in a slow-motion sequence that captures just how far they’ve come, just how clearly the couple is now, finally, in sync: it’s a perfectly choreographed ballet of gun-blasts and bullets that shows John and Jane working seamlessly together to defeat their enemies, the things that would kill them if they weren’t finally and wordlessly “communicating.” They shoot their enemies over each other’s shoulders; they reload each other’s weapons and they anticipate the other’s moves and targets, and duck or assist each other accordingly; they stand back to back (“husband and wife are one flesh”) to lay waste to whoever tries to come between them. The violence is palpable: but, in the end, “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” isn’t about violence; it’s about the fight to save a marriage.