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Mr & Mrs Smith - [It] gave me the chance to make a film that said, 'Big deal, so you're a highly-trained assassin; try being married for six years

Feature by Jack Foley

FOR a big-budget summer blockbuster, Mr and Mrs Smith had very modest origins.

Screenwriter, Simon Kinberg, wrote the first draft of the screenplay for his Master's thesis at Columbia University Film School, before developing it properly into a film.

"The idea came from my passion for Hong Kong action films," says Kinberg, who went on to write or co-write XXX: State of the Union and X-Men 3.

"The Hong Kong action films were cool, sleek, sexy and kinetic, and all that became the impetus and framework for my original draft."

The cool, sleek, sexy ethos can easily be applied to the film's two stars, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie - the latter of whom stepped in to replace Nicole Kidman.

But it was also honed by director, Doug Liman, who immediately became enticed by the script's possibilities - especially in taking the spy genre in yet another different direction as he had previously done with The Bourne Identity.

"The Bourne Identity celebrated Jason Bourne's exceptional physical abilities," says Liman. "So I was excited Mr & Mrs Smith gave me the chance to make a film that said, 'Big deal, so you're a highly-trained assassin. Try being married for six years; now that's really impressive!"

That wasn't to say that the film ended up being a cosy family drama - far from it!

Liman was similarly in awe of the balletic style of Hong Kong's action movies and designed his own set pieces to reflect the best work of John Woo and company.

As a result, both Pitt and Jolie were enrolled for what the filmmakers' describe as 'spy school', which meant the two actors attended weekly gun-training sessions with stunt co-ordinators, Mic Rodgers and Tim Trella, as well as technical advisor, Mark Stefanich.

A former member of S.E.A.L. Team Two, as well as S.E.A.L. Team Six (also known as the Dev Group), Stefanich facilitated the actors' training in special operations and counter-terrorism tactics.

"Brad and I have separately appeared in action films," explains Jolie, "but that's a specific method of training.

"I've never had a partner on film before and it's very different working with one.

"We had to learn to move in tandem with fully loaded pump shotguns, crossing each other, running into houses, breaking and covering an area, shooting at moving targets – it was crazy, but we learned to trust each other."

Adds Stefanich: "We started them off with the basics, including weapons familiarization, proper stance, how to hold the weapon, safety and use,.

"We progressed to moving through and shooting at multiple targets."

By their very nature, covert operations are fluid and ever-changing, so the actors were taught to rely on their wits during much of the action.

An operative must be ready to adapt to any circumstance, and change his or her tactics in the blink of an eye.

Pitt and Jolie were outfitted with the newest high tech weapons, including cutting-edge, non-lethal Taser and stun guns. The actors completed weapons indoctrination on a wide range of artillery, from the MP5 submachine gun to sophisticated pistols with aim points, optics and high capacity magazines.

According to Stefanich, the actors were strict about not wanting to turn the action into fantasy.

"They learned on the firing range how difficult it really is to become proficient with a firearm; how you can't shoot from the hip and hit targets unless you happen to be a world champion shooter."

What's more, they sought to perform as many of the stunts themselves as possible, to increase the authenticity of proceedings.

"An audience wants to see the actors do their own stunts," says stunt co-ordinator, Simon Crane.

"They don't want to see CG. People want to go to movies to be entertained by their favourite actors. I'd rather spend time rehearsing, testing, making it safe for the actors and then putting them in situations that look precarious."

By training so hard and spending so much time together off-set, Pitt and Jolie developed the sort of chemistry that translates effortlessly to the screen.

They work in tandem with each other and feel as though they could be married to each other, making their story all the more believable and enjoyable into the bargain.

It helps to create a superb fantasy adventure that rates as one of the most shamelessly enjoyable popcorn films of the year.

The training was most definitely worth it.

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