Mr. And Mrs. Smith: Brangelina Blows up the Burbs

And, if recent tabloid stories are any indication of our collective American fascination with all things celeb, then these two could do little more than have an on-screen therapy session (they do, for roughly 5 minutes of the film) and us audience members – fat, dumb, and happy – would be satisfied. Fortunately, there is a bit more to the film than this. But only a bit. If you’ve seen the movie trailer, you know the basics. Brangelina play two married spies – Jane and John Smith – working for different secret agencies. Governmental? Corporate? Is there a difference? Who cares? After a chance first meeting while on separate assignments in Bogota, Colombia (gosh, no secret US corp/gov involvement in THAT country of late, eh?), they get smart, get drunk, and get horny – all within the space of 2 minutes or so – and bang!

Jane and John are suddenly married and living in the ‘burbs. Five years (or is it six?) have passed. While their neighbors perceive them as just another happily married upper crust suburban couple (with a gigantic house, “his” and “hers” Beamers and a tool shed and kitchen range to match – director Doug Liman has some fun with this), John and Jane use the other as cover, neither suspecting that their spouse is in a similar line of work. (You’d think the Bogota thing might’ve tipped off at least one of them).

And then one day, each is called in to make the same hit. Chaos ensues. Sparks fly. Guns go off. So do RPGs. Furniture is broken. Buildings are destroyed. Plot twists ensue. One liners are delivered. (Any last words?” Jane asks John. “Your new curtains are hideous,” John retorts to Jane.) The best thing about this film is the way it plays, in a lazy and insouciant but clever way (sort of like Pitt and Jolie’s acting), with marriage as that most mysterious of institutions. At the end of the day, what exactly do husbands and wives do in all their spare time? (Don’t answer that by saying “holding down three or four jobs to pay the bills” – how gauche.)

In fact, perhaps the way to make sense of this film is to see it as a post-911 “war on terror” marriage manual, a neo-con’s wet dream (sorry, “nocturnal emission” – gotta be PC here). In Mr. And Mrs. Smith, all is illusion. No one is to be trusted. Not even your spouse. FOX is the only reliable news source. Everyone has a laptop and the latest encryption technology. Surveillance is simply a fact of life. Cops are everywhere. Guns are commonplace. Problems are solved through the numbing application of violence – fists, knives, guns, bombs, cars, SAMs, you name it. Your friends all work for the shadow government. Your friends are all over-the-top paranoid. Your friends appreciate you up until the point when you are deemed expendable, and then, well, they finger you and blow your cover. (Vince Vaughn does this shtick very well as supporting cast).

If all this beginning to sound depressingly familiar, at least based on the “reality” constructed by official White House press briefings, than so be it. The world is a dangerous place. Bad guys (and gals) are everywhere. All of us could benefit from a little combat training and the latest in $300 sunglasses. Just get used to it. Think of Brangelina as a sort of “self help” model couple for the new millennium. There ain’t nothing in this brave new post-911 world that a little lethal fashionista sense, a seductive look, or a well-placed karate kick to the groin can’t cure.

And heck, if all else fails, there’s always the mall! I’m sure it’s no accident that the final climactic shoot-out (oh, c’mon now – I’m not ruining this for you – it’s a summer blockbuster, remember?) takes place in a giant big box retail establishment, complete with rows and rows of family-friendly furniture, petroleum-laced fertilizer and discounted auto parts. Perhaps Mr. Liman wanted to call our attention to America’s obsession with consumerism, or the coming of global Peak Oil, or the imminent collapse of the U.S. Empire?


Historian, media educator, and musician Rob Williams works with the Action Coalition for Media Education (ACME at and Vermont Commons (

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