Mr. and Mrs. Smith
March 19th, 2004
Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote that marriage is like “a field of battle, and not a bed of roses.” And, this adage can be no better defined than in what takes place in “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.”
Meet John and Jane Smith. On the face of it, they have a postcard-perfect suburban marriage, with John an executive in the shipping industry and Jane the owner of a temp agency. But, unbeknownst to each other, they are both playing a part, a role of convenience— they’re really for-hire assassins, working primarily for two men pitted against each other in an underworld war. In Kimberg’s script, we have a great little nugget that sustains a bubblegum pop feel throughout its 116 pages.
The screenplay is not perfect, but it’s quite an enjoyable effort nonetheless that should translate well to celluloid.
However, there is one thing that does not bode well for the production— FilmJerk.com has heard from various sources that both leads, Brad Pitt (who plays John Smith) and Angelina Jolie (Jane Smith), are suffering from a flu-like sicknesses on-set, something that was recently also picked up by the New York Post’s Page Six. As they’ve lost some shooting days because of this, I hope they’re not cramming the remainder of the filming schedule and ultimately sacrificing the script’s quality for the sake of getting the scenes done. Also factoring into this equation is that Pitt is tightly scheduled, as he begins “Ocean’s Twelve” next month. This is a script of intricacies and of symmetry, and needs a steady hand and discipline from director Doug Liman.
Although that development gives me pause, I’m betting that the end product will be an enjoyable confectionary of husband vs. wife, until death do they part.
This script review includes major plot points to “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.” Read at your own risk.
The film begins in a marriage therapist’s office, with John and Jane there at the behest of the other. They are not a troubled couple – aside from the lies and the hidden reality – but are there to do the fashionable thing, something that all their neighbors seem be into as the latest suburban craze. The therapist tells them that he is to take them through a rigorous five-step process: They are to initiate, interact, communicate, compromise and adapt with each other. All part of the process to fall in love again, he tells them that they’re “going to have to work, to share. To really zero in on each other.” These words at the outset become the recurring theme to the film, as the two predators do just that throughout the script, albeit not in the doctor’s office.
The action then shifts to a hotel, where a white-gloved waiter is in the process of delivering room service. En route, the waiter is revealed to be a disguised assassin. While humming the song “A Few of My Favorite Things,” he dispatches several guards and then arrives at his main target, a man being protected by a multitude of federal agents. Snapping a leg off the rolling tray that holds the food, the unnamed man takes out a number of the agents, as well as a sweating and terrified man in his 50s who we later find out is an accountant about to turn in an underworld figure. Looking out the window, he sees a cavalcade of law-enforcement types swarming to the scene. After a neat trick that sends off a few more agents trying to capture him, the unnamed assassin is knocked out by a senior agent waiting for his prey.
Moving back to the Smiths, the audience sees their home life: Jane in a “kiss the cook” apron, slicing and dicing vegetables with alarming precision, then meeting him with a plate of hors d’ouevres at the front door as John arrives home from work. Barely touching otherwise, she kisses him weakly on the cheek, before he goes out to trim his treasured roses. Set during the holiday period, she trims the tree alone, placing ornaments on their tree with blinding speed and cracking a string of electric lights on the tree in a whip-like maneuver. During dinner, they share pleasant conversation, nothing more, and – as the script suggests – “we get the sense that every dinner in the Smith house is like this.” During this often-quiet sequence, the audience tries to figure out what their habits and rituals mask exactly, but not before the phone rings. John takes the call on his private line, while Jane is alerted that she has received an instant message on her computer upstairs. Both making excuses, they take leave of each other from the dinner table and separately head into Manhattan, ostensibly because of work concerns.
And each character transforms. Jane no longer is the meek housewife, now fitted is a tight black suit and barking orders to a cadre of similarly dressed women in a corporate setting as a “deal memo” comes in. John no longer is the soft-spoken husband, donning a leather jacket and exuding the swagger of a man in control of his destiny. He is briefed by Sal – his older running partner, sort of the “Microchip” to John’s “Punisher” -- in a hotel room. Jane and John share the same target, to take out the assassin seen in the first few pages of the screenplay, neither to the other’s knowledge. They are oblivious to the other’s efforts. But the scenes in how the husband and wife separately go about planning the hit shows the difference in how men and women work and play are quite interesting—`Jane and her cadre of associates get a hard schematic of the building and map out a number of contingency plans, while John cases the joint and comes up with a plan by the seat of his pants. Jane lives for the “basic rules for a full takeover,” John by the exact opposite— whatever happens, happens.
As you might have guessed, the remainder of the screenplay largely focuses on the two finding out who their significant other truly is and battling against each other. The early revelation of the other’s identity, how they came became married, the symmetry of their first scenes playing out again later in the script and their first real spark/kiss are all stand-outs. The film really shines during the second act, especially when these two are paired against each other in the second act. Some of the scenes that are set up there are problematic and cliché-y, but no it’s the interplay between the two leads that helps it rise to another level. The end, when they decide to join forces, is a minor step down, but plays out well enough. And, of course, the way it ends leaves the door particularly open for a sequel. I’m hoping there is a way to swing a rematch between the two.
Early in the script, Jane lectures one of her associates – who is planning to get married out of love, which is different from Jane’s involvement with John -- says that “Marriage is always and only in service to the job. It’s a cover. Part of the job. The job always comes first. And it’s no different now…it’s him or us.” To see how John and Jane reconnect, whether it be at a very base level of understanding their real identifies to later agreeing to work together, is a pleasure. Kimberg does an extremely good job of taking them through the five-step process mentioned above to re-connect— but not in a marriage counselor’s office, of course. On the battlefield.
In terms of the script itself, the middle act needs some minor surgery, just to be further tightened and some of the scenes to be less fantastic in nature. Both the first and third acts are great as is, although the latter could use some touch-up work—after the scenes in the second act, it feels like a little bit of a letdown, but is faithful to the premise and the five-step process of rekindling “that old (new) flame.” It’s a good execution, no doubt, but it left me wanting more than was on the page.
There was one clanging alarm that sounded each time I re-read the opening of the screenplay: How Jolie will do as Jane Smith, something I am personally uneasy with. In the beginning of the script, the audience is supposed to buy her as being the typical suburban housewife, described as having “beauty and breeding” and being “a womanly woman.” But her off-screen persona and her choices of roles before this recently – like the “Tomb Raider” franchise, for example – render her anything but that type of character here, at least in the onset. This is a problem, as I can’t see audiences setting her past work on screen aside from this role; this role requires a lot of buy-in from the premise— my fear is that her housewife guise will be see through immediately by the audience and lessen the intended impact. A classicly trained actress or someone who has not been associated with the action genre before this turn might have been a better choice here, perhaps, even if the actress didn’t have the desired A-list name. Jennifer Aniston, Pitt’s real-life wife, would have made for an interesting choice although it may have detracted from the film’s overall focus. Nicole Kidman and Catherine Zeta-Jones, who were both originally attached to the project at various times this past fall, would have made for a better choice than Jolie, but scheduling apparently prevented them from being a part of the film.
Pitt will have a great time with this role, as he has been attached to this project from the get-go and despite the revolving door of actresses. John Smith is a little like his Rusty Ryan character from “Ocean’s Twelve,” but this should be a real treat for audiences, especially in that he can firmly cement himself as a leading man role, without an all-star cast around him.
Other than Pitt and Jolie, the other casting choices that have been announced are pretty solid. Adam Brody (from “The O.C.”) plays Hector, a character who is kidnapped early on in the film and makes a later appearance somewhat. The problem – in this draft, at least – is that the character name doesn’t appear, but I am guessing from the announcement that he will play the assassin here named Jimmy Jackson we see at the beginning of the film and is the target that causes Jane and John to cross paths. My hope is that this name-change is that the script didn’t change a great deal, of course. Stephanie March (late of “Law & Order: SVU”) will play one of Jane’s lead employees. IMDB.com listed character actor William Fichtner (most noticeable in another of Liman’s films, 1999’s “Go,” and 2000’s “The Perfect Storm”), who would be a god fit for the special agent Ed Webster, who is trying to track both John and Jane.
While many will compare this to “The War of the Roses” – albeit one set in the action genre -- the film takes this adage to another level and shows a similar tone of acidic wit. “Smith” needs to stick to the genial, breezy attitude found in the script as written here (which I’d describe as tonally similar to “Ocean’s Eleven” or an Elmore Leonard novel), as it won’t work if the production takes itself too seriously. With Liman at the helm as director, however, I think this is almost a non-issue based on the similarities to his earlier films before that point.
In the end the final verdict is that through both style and substance, “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” looks to be an enjoyable action gem, despite some concerns.
My rating: B+
This undated script for “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” is written by Simon Kimberg (who, oddly, is listed as "David Kinberg" on IMDB.com). Principal photography for the film began in January in Los Angeles and will soon move to New York.