Released in 2005 to an insurmountable wave of tabloid gossip, Mr. and Mrs. Smith was bound to never get a fair shake from critics and ex-girlfriends. The movie’s mid-summer release was greeted by months and months of controversy surrounding the wrassling of actor Brad Pitt from actress Jennifer Aniston by Angelina Jolie — a game of celebrity musical chairs that occurred on the set of (ding ding ding) Mr. and Mrs. Smith. The line was drawn in the sand. You were either Team Aniston or Team Jolie (Don’t you dare be on Team Pitt!). Unfortunately for Team Jolie, an entire generation of teenage girls had grown up hearing about the actresses’ bizarre Tinseltown exploits. Meanwhile, Jennifer Aniston was unequivocally viewed as America’s sweetheart thanks to her 10-year run on the TV show Friends.
In a perfect world, a work of art would be judged on merit alone. However, our collective love/hate relationship with notoriety and muckraking made Mr. and Mrs. Smith an endless target. Specifically with American audiences. Not surprisingly, U.S. viewers weren’t responsible for the film’s box office success — international audiences were. It could be argued that tabloid culture had prevented the film from breaking even in the states. Which is a real shame since the movie is actually a very slick, oftentimes entertaining actioner from its unsung hero, director Doug Liman (Bourne Identity, Edge of Tomorrow).
Written by then fledgling screenwriter Simon Kinberg (X-Men: Days of Future Past), Mr. and Mrs. Smith is the type of dark comedy that doesn’t attract A-List actors or major studios anymore. Kinberg’s story zeroes in on an icy marriage between Jane (Jolie) and John Smith (Pitt), as they struggle to reignite the dwindling sparks in their relationship while utterly lying to each other about their work as contract killers. Uncharacteristically for an action film, the movie doesn’t open with a giant set piece but in an uncomfortably still therapy session between the two. Immediately, because of Liman’s framing, you already can see where the schism is in the relationship. Jane is self-serious and specific while John is smirky and childish. This dynamic is largely the reason that the comedy in this film works so well. Pitt is all too happy to play the fool while Jolie (not known for comedic roles) is totally unflappable.
Uncharacteristically for an action film, the movie doesn’t open with a giant set piece but in an uncomfortably still therapy session between the two. Immediately, because of Liman’s framing, you already can see where the schism is in the relationship. Jane is self-serious and overly specific while John is smirky and childish. This dynamic is largely the reason that the comedy in this film works so well. Pitt is all too happy to play the fool while Jolie (not known for comedic roles) is totally unflappable.
Not only does the dynamic provide some fantastic comedic beats, but it also informs a lot of the action sequences. Jane’s shrewdness often betters John’s boyishness. If anything, her attention to detail ends up igniting one of the movie’s best moments. At the mid-way point, John walks back into their home while underestimating the fact that Jane is also aware that they both work for rival spy organizations. He proposes they open a bottle of wine and then deliberately sends it plummeting towards their carpeted floor. Jane reflexively catches it without thinking (a reaction from years of spy training, no doubt). Realizing she gave herself away, she then drops the bottle! This erupts into a chase between the two that is both hilarious and wicked in execution (one of many).
There has been quite a few romance themed action comedies throughout the years. But unlike True Lies, (which, before redeeming itself, comes dangerously close to cruel with the way it treats Jamie Lee Curtis) or Knight And Day (where Tom Cruise seems to be stalking Cameron Diaz more than anything), Mr. And Mrs. Smith allows both the male and female lead to achieve equal footing throughout. It’s a testament to how serious the filmmaker’s commit to the movie’s theme of honesty equating to parity in a relationship. Even if, ironically, the movie’s two co-stars threw Jennifer Aniston and her legion of fans under the bus in the process.