First, for the handful of obsessive film buffs out there who never read the tabloids, Mr. and Mrs. Smith has nothing to do with the 1940s screwball comedy of that name directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Instead, it is a curious hybrid of action movie and domestic comedy that stars Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie as professional assassins who are married but have kept their jobs secret from each other. Each spouse has all sorts of gadgets and weapons hidden around the house, and each assumes the other has a regular, boring job. And perhaps, in trying to live up to their suburban disguise, they have let things become too boring.

The film begins with a nicely understated sequence in which the Smiths attend a counseling session with an offscreen marriage therapist, who asks how long they have been together. "Five years," says John (Pitt). "Six," says Jane (Jolie), with the sort of barely suppressed irritation that comes from bottling things up for too long. "Five or six," says John, in a way that indicates he knows his wife won't accept such a noncommittal compromise.

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie play husband-wife assassins

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie play husband-wife assassins

At this point, moviegoers may recall that Pitt himself saw his marriage (to Jennifer Aniston) come to an end after five or six years together while he was making this movie, and that there has been much media speculation about the reasons for this. Suffice to say that such gossip has no place here; for me, at least, it was quite easy to forget about all that, once the story gets going. Indeed, the only other time I found myself thinking about the movie stars' real-life personae, it was during a scene in which the Smiths attend a neighbor's party, and one of the women hands a baby over to Jane, leaving her to look rather uncomfortable as she holds the child at an awkward arm's length. The ironic humor here, of course, comes from the fact that Jolie's fondness for children is a huge part of her offscreen image.

But eventually the spy stuff must take over. John and Jane are each given assignments to take out a certain individual, and they unwittingly sabotage each other's plans, but without immediately revealing their identities. When they report their failures to their bosses, each of them is given 48 hours to figure out who got in the way, and to get rid of that person. And it isn't long before they discover that they've both been sleeping with the enemy.

John (Pitt) reflects on the notion of killing his wife

John (Pitt) reflects on the notion of killing his wife

And then the fireworks really begin. Mr. and Mrs. Smith is a little like a cross between True Lies, but without the misogyny (this time, husband and wife are equally smart, equally strong, equally violent), and The War of the Roses. But only a little. You could also say the film represents an effort by director Doug Liman to pair the cozy relationship humor of his earlier, smaller hit Swingers (he even brings back Vince Vaughn as a sexist bachelor) with the action-packed thrills of his later, bigger hit The Bourne Identity. And like a lot of marriages, this combination hits a few rough patches, but it hangs together in the end.

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Much of the credit goes to Pitt and Jolie, who are both quite charismatic and have proved their talents in a range of genres, which makes them perfect for a genre-blending film such as this one. The flashback showing how the Smiths first meet is particularly charming; they are both in Bogota, Colombia when the local militia starts rounding up tourists who are traveling by themselves, so they use each other as cover, and once they are alone together, they find they have a special chemistry. The next morning, Jane wakes up to find that John is gone, but before she can mourn his absence, he shows up with her breakfast—and he says he had to prepare it himself because the hotel staff have all "fled."

Giving new meaning to the idea of 'cleaving' to one's spouse

Giving new meaning to the idea of 'cleaving' to one's spouse

But then we come back to the present, in which the Smiths confirm their suspicions about each other over an amusingly suspenseful dinner, and then—over the course of several confrontations, some public, some private—get down to the business of shooting, punching, and kicking each other, while rigging the odd room or two to explode. But Liman never takes the violence so seriously that it gets in the way of the humor; he is pretty obviously just using an exaggerated form of an already exaggerated genre to make light of humdrum marital difficulties, and seen in that light, it's not that bad. A lot of humor is rooted in the ability to give us a sense of proportion about our lives; in real life, some people throw dishes at their spouses, but in this movie, people blow things up, and it's all so over-the-top that you can't really take it any more seriously than, say, The Incredibles, which also mocked suburban life through the use of explosive spy-movie clichés.

One problematic issue that the film never properly addresses is who, exactly, the Smiths work for, or who, exactly, the Smiths are fighting when they discover they have a common enemy. With, say, a James Bond film, it isn't too hard to suspend our moral qualms and accept that governments give certain agents the permission—even the duty—to kill people who work for other governments; that sort of thing is just set dressing for a traditional battle between good guys and bad guys. But Mr. and Mrs. Smith enters into morally murkier territory, especially in its third act when the Smiths must team up against their mutual foe, and it doesn't allow us to bracket things off so easily. It also leaves some key plot threads unresolved, even as it tries to give us some sort of happy ending.

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Vince Vaughn (right) is cast as humorous bachelor

Vince Vaughn (right) is cast as humorous bachelor

It is also not clear what some of the film's suburban symbolism is intended to convey. A chase scene involving a mini-van and some sleek cars driven by the enemy agents could be a celebration of suburban spirit, but a climactic shoot-out inside a discount department store is open to more ambivalent readings; are the enemies invading a suburban paradise, which the Smiths heroically defend, or is the destruction of that store intended as some sort of critique of middle-class consumerism, with its ideas about what makes the "perfect" home?

Things like these keep Mr. and Mrs. Smith from being the very good film it could have been. Still, Pitt and Jolie have chemistry to burn, and the film hits more often than it misses. Christian moviegoers might also get a kick out of the way Christian pop culture is used to signify the dull, middle-class life. A cover of Amy Grant's "Baby Baby" can be heard on the soundtrack when the Smiths attend their neighbors' party, and Chris Weitz (who, together with his brother Paul, co-directed About a Boy, co-wrote Antz, and co-starred in Chuck & Buck) plays a neighbor from whom the Smiths steal a couple of "Jesus Rocks!" jackets. Because, of course, every suburban paradise must have its Ned Flanders.

Talk About It

Discussion starters
  1. If you are married, what secrets do you have from your spouse? Any? What sorts of secrets do you think spouses should have, or shouldn't have?

  2. How should married people deal with tension or aggression in their relationships? Is it ever healthy to release any of that aggression, to argue or even fight? If so, when and how?

  3. What do you think the film says about suburban life? Does it affirm it, or critique it? How does this film's portrayal of suburban life compare to that of other films like The Incredibles? (Note what happens to the family home in both films.) Why do you think the suburban life is identified with Christianity? What do Christianity and the suburban life have in common? In what ways does—or should—Christianity challenge suburban ideals?

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The Family Corner

For parents to consider

Mr. and Mrs. Smith is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, intense action, sexual content and brief strong language. The Smiths have sex right after they meet (it's not explicit), but they later marry. The Smiths kill people as part of their job—which may or may not have government sanction—and when they discover that they are both assassins working for rival firms, they kick, punch, shoot at each other and plant bombs intended for each other, but it's all intended as a send-up of marital difficulties and spy-movie conventions. We also see quite a bit of Jolie in some scenes (no nudity, but lots of legs and cleavage), including one where she's wearing a dominatrix outfit.

What Other Critics Are Saying
compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet

from Film Forum, 06/16/05

You're probably sick of mainstream media gossip about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. So let's get right down to business: Is the action movie Mr. and Mrs. Smith, directed by The Bourne Identity's Doug Liman, worth seeing? Or is it just a bunch of gratuitous violence and inappropriate humor?

Christian press critics have differing responses, but they're not as critical of the film as you might expect.

Josh Hurst (Reveal) is surprised at how much he liked it. "Defying all logic, this big, glossy, effect-laden blockbuster—which could have easily conquered the box office with its sheer star power alone—may very well be one of the year's most entertaining films, filled with hearty laughs, exhilarating action, characters that we care about, and even surprising moments of pathos. … The actors are working from a first-class script, one that sparkles with wit, irony, and real emotion."

Jonathan Rodriguez (Christian Spotlight) felt differently: "For the last 45 minutes or so, I found myself wondering when it would finally end."

Harry Forbes (Catholic News Service) says the film is not a "throwback to the sophisticated screwball comedies of an earlier era. … This is a loud, excessively violent exercise in mindless mayhem. On top of that, it's a plodding and uninvolving, not to mention woefully unfunny, vehicle."

Adam R. Holz (Plugged In) says, "The movie's message about telling the truth and keeping your commitments is a positive one. But it's riddled with bullets, bodies and bodices. The makers of Mr. & Mrs. Smith seemed most interested in giving Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie a chance to blow lots of stuff up, kiss and make up—and look very good doing it."

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Mainstream critics have mixed reactions to the Mr. and Mrs.

from Film Forum, 06/23/05
Andrew Coffin (World) says it's "firmly tongue in cheek, with nothing grounded in reality, save, perhaps, the explosively exaggerated trials of married life. In that regard, the film does come around to a certain amount of sweetness, but one has to turn off nearly every other moral concern in order to appreciate this tiny kernel of good. While Mr. and Mrs. Smith does contain a few provocative scenes, the film isn't as sexual as its trailers suggest."

Denny Wayman and Hal Conklin (Cinema in Focus) say, "In a day when domestic violence is an increasing problem, it is not helpful to present a film which takes spousal violence to a professional level. Though billed as a comedy, implying that it is all a joke and we have no sense of humor if we get concerned, Mr. & Mrs. Smith is not funny. It is destructive."

from Film Forum, 07/14/05

Michael Leary (The Matthew's House Project) writes, "As a bit of a screwball comedy, the film revels in its snarky descriptions of gender differences. And though it pokes fun at itself, it does end with husband and wife finally coming to grips with their respective roles. It is just a pity this pointed humor doesn't extend to other elements of the storyline."

Mr. & Mrs. Smith
Our Rating
2½ Stars - Fair
Average Rating
(not rated yet)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
PG-13 (for sequences of violence, intense action, sexual content and brief strong language)
Directed By
Doug Liman
Run Time
2 hours
Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Adam Brody
Theatre Release
June 10, 2005 by 20th Century Fox
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