The Truth About Charlie

2002, Movie, PG-13, 104 mins


For film students in search of paper topics, Jonathan Demme's remake of the Audrey Hepburn/Cary Grant caper picture CHARADE (1963) is a godsend. Unfortunately, it's also the kind of spectacularly misconceived enterprise that only a sophisticated cinephile could have perpetrated, a monumental movie-geek lark on the order of Gus Van Sant's meticulous "recreation" of Hitchcock's PSYCHO (1998). While vacationing in the Caribbean, unhappily married Regina "Reggie" Lambert (Thandie Newton) decides to divorce Charles (Stephen Dillane), whom she impulsively wed after a whirlwind courtship. But when she returns home, she finds their Paris apartment ransacked and police officers waiting with the news that Charles is dead. Among his effects: a handful of passports in different names, Reggie's first inkling that her murdered husband had a secret life. Reggie is contacted by an American embassy official (Tim Robbins, inhabiting the role originated by Walter Matthau), stalked by three mercenaries (Ted Levine, Joong-Hoon Park, Lisa Gay Hamilton) and helped by enigmatic good samaritan Joshua Peters (Mark Wahlberg), who may be in cahoots with the bad guys. Everyone's after a small fortune Charles acquired in some shady fashion, and assumes the guileless Reggie either has it or knows where it's hidden. Her good-faith efforts to uncover the truth about her mysterious husband's doings only lead Reggie deeper into a web of lies and deception and may be endangering her life. Inspired by the realization that CHARADE, the quintessential star-driven Hollywood entertainment, was shooting in Paris at the same time Nouvelle Vague wunderkinder were reinventing French cinema, and invigorated by such recent films as Tom Tykwer's RUN LOLA RUN (1998), Doug Liman's GO (1999), Lars von Trier's DANCER IN THE DARK (2000) and Wong Kar-wai's FALLEN ANGELS (1995), Demme undertook to pull CHARADE apart and reassemble it with the seams showing. Using multiple film stocks, jump-cuts, disorienting angles, slow motion and nostril-magnifying close-ups, Demme insistently shifts focus away from the story and onto the telling. Where CHARADE unfolds in a fantasy Paris full of glamorous white people, Demme's film takes place in a gray tangle of streets teeming with multi-ethnic Parisians. Newton and Robbins mimic Hepburn and Matthau, while Wahlberg is the anti-Grant, lumpen and thuggish rather than beguilingly debonair. Demme stages a pair of Brechtian cameos for SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER star Charles Aznavour, casts filmmaker Agnes Varda as a deranged harridan and builds a surreal tango bar sequence around French New Wave poster girl Anna Karina, all of which is very clever without actually being enjoyable. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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