The Tourist review: An entertainingly unpredictable thriller
James R | On 01, Jan 2022
What makes you you? Is it your name? Where you come from? What you’ve done in the past? What if you can’t remember either of those? That’s the dilemma facing The Man (Jamie Dornan) in The Tourist, BBC One’s new six-parter – and it’s a thrilling ride into the unknown.
We join our hero as he’s driving through the Australian outback, singing along to Bette Davis Eyes – between this and Barb and Star Go to Vista del Mar, whenever something features Jamie Dornan singing, you know you’re in for a good time. But almost immediately, up pops a giant truck that starts to chase after him. One thing lead to another and The Man ends up the wrong side up by the side of the road – and then, a blackout later, finds himself in hospital with no memory of who he is or what he’s doing Down Under.
The only person he does know? Helen, a probationary police constable (Danielle Macdonald), who is eager to help him get his bearings, and solve the case of who was trying to kill him. That mystery takes on added urgency when it becomes clear that the attempts to bump him off aren’t over yet – and Macdonald’s performance is wonderfully upbeat and cheerfully naive, providing the perfect contrast to the growing feeling of ominous peril.
Macdonald leads a wonderfully eccentric supporting cast, which includes Ólafur Darri Ólafsson as Billy, a whistling cowboy who tells everyone he meets that his mum used to do their job with a menacingly polite smile, and Line of Duty’s scene-stealing Shalom Brune-Franklin as the seemingly friendly Luci. And, in between it all, there’s a guy who’s apparently been buried alive and keeps trying to contact The Man for help.
What all these people have to do with each other is anybody’s guess, and writers Harry and Jack Williams (The Missing, Liar) expertly make sure that we’re in the same boat as The Man, unsure about anything and constantly trying to piece together everything. Director Chris Sweeney beautifully leans into the atmosphere of uncertainty with visuals and colours that are always slightly off-kilter and a backdrop that feels increasingly hostile.
But the key to The Tourist’s success is its leading man, with Jamie Dornan delivering a brilliantly intense turn in a role that could easily have been a frustrating cypher. Dornan’s earnest, gruff presence manages to be likeable while still remaining unknowable, as he’s bewildered not just by what’s going on around him but also by what that means about who he is.
Pitched somewhere between The Bourne Identity, Duel and No Country for Old Men, the result has a disarmingly offbeat sense of humour that accentuates the unpredictability and absurdity of the whole situation. A consistently inconsistent approach to pacing gives the programme a stop-start feel that never lets us feel comfortable, as things suddenly lurch into action without warning. As you slowly start to work out what The Man’s done in the past, the one thing that’s for sure is that you won’t want to wait to find out what he does next.
The Tourist is available on BBC iPlayer until December 2022