The Truth About Charlie
review by Gregory Avery, 25 October 2002

Did Jonathan Demme burn out a bearing while making the calamitous Beloved? His new film, The Truth About Charlie, a remake of Charade and his first feature in four years, is a woozy, roisterous, exhausting mess, and the off-beat casting of its two leads turns out to be as ill-starred as you might expect.

As a woman who comes to Paris to discover that her dead husband is not who he was cracked-up to be and doesn't know who to turn to for help, Thandie Newton is lovely and unexpectedly, and indirectly, evokes the lilting sound of Audrey Hepburn in her voice (Hepburn played the same role in the 1963 film), but she only seems to be vaguely engaging the camera most of the time, and her performance seems a tad too weak to fully engage us (and, in the end, she's reduced to being merely tremulous and, worse, agape). She's miles ahead of Mark Wahlberg, though: you can see why he was cast, for the way he can shuttle between boyish charm and menace in a flash, but, while it turns out that he can wear a beret without looking foolish, the guy still can't act -- you find yourself yearning for Matthew Modine in Married to the Mob to come in and show him how this sort of thing is really done. Wahlberg stands in the middle of his scenes and holds his ground with the paused intensity of someone waiting for a really long traffic light to change.

The story in the original film, with its constantly shifting alliances, quadruple-crosses, and unexpected plot turns, made more sense than what's going on, here: things are further complicated by bobbing camerawork, switches between 35 mm. and HDV that keep us off-balance (the cinematography was by the superb Tak Fujimoto, a longtime Demme collaborator, so the colors are terrific), and loads of movie references. Part of the action takes place in a hotel named the Langlois; one scene is set on a Ferris wheel in the Tuilleries, and specifically evokes The Third Man; Hannibal Lecter's glass cell even turns up in a closing scene. One character makes a reference to Shoot the Piano Player, which is then followed by a clip from the Truffaut film with Charles Aznavour, which is then followed by Aznavour himself, singing to the characters and to the audience. There's also a musical cameo, in a tango bar, by the great French nouvelle vague muse Anna Karina. (Aznavour's voice is a bit on the rough side; Karina, on the other hand, is terrific, before, now, and always. The film, despite all else, has one of the best musical soundtracks this year, loaded with French pop, rap, and Afro-pop, along with two cuts from Malcolm McLaren's Paris album.) But trying to keep up with everything is a bit of a stretch: the film feels like it's taking place inside of a Mixmaster, with any scenes which would have drawn us into the story and characters getting thinned-out.

Tim Robbins turns up as a U.S. government official, representing a department with a phony-sounding name, and who gets Newton's character to trust him -- he bugs his eyes during his very first scene and signals to us that he's a loony from the start. (Robbins is best when he's not playing a villain.) There are two breathtaking appearances by Magali NoŽl, though (it would have been nice if she'd had some dialogue, too), and the best scene in the movie is one at the very, very end between Robbins and Frederique Meininger, who plays the distraught mother of the title character -- it has the kind of humor which first drew us to Jonathan Demme's films, and which he hopefully will find again.

Directed by:
Jonathan Demme

Thandie Newton
Mark Wahlberg
Ted Levine
Joong-hoon Park
Lisa Gay Hamilton
Christine Boisson
Frederique Meininger
Charles Aznavour
Tim Robbins.

Written by:
Jonathan Demme
Steve Schmidt
Peter Joshua
Jessica Bendinger

PG-13 - Parents
Strongly Cautioned.
Some matrial may be
inappropriate for
children under 13






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