Cate Blanchett
Billy Crudup
Michael Gambon
Rupert Penry-Jones
Anton Lesser
Ron Cook
John Pierce Jones
John Benfield
Lewis Crutch

Gillian Armstrong



The Novel

Time: 121 mins.
Rating: PG-13
Genre: History/Romance/Drama

Cate Blanchett, one of Hollywood's hardest working actresses, gives another chameleon-like performance in CHARLOTTE GRAY, another WWII tale of hard choices and personal struggles. Unlike big name stars such as Cruise or Roberts, Blanchett reveals a whole new side of her talent with every role, usually 180 degrees from the last. Since her stunning breakthrough turn in ELIZABETH, she has worked in an impressive array of films, some great, some mediocre. Unfortunately, this is one of the latter. It's not amongst the worst films of the year, it just never quite comes together as a solid piece of entertainment. What makes it worthwhile is Blanchett's riveting turn as an everyday Scottish woman who discovers what she's really made of while working as a British spy in occupied France.

The basis for the plot is an intriguing one, however, once we arrive at the meat of the story there's nothing exceptionally different about Charlotte's experiences than those found in many other WWII dramas. This may be the first film to deal with a woman spy, but it felt like old hat. It begins with Charlotte being recruited by the government because she speaks fluid French and is familiar with the country. She doesn't take her training seriously until her American fighter pilot boyfriend (Penry-Jones) is downed behind enemy lines. Believing she can save him, she pushes hard to be sent on a mission.

Once she lands in France, it quickly becomes painfully clear that she is not playing a game. Her actions could have dire consequences for her and the members of the French resistance she meets up with. Julien (Crudup), the leader of the local resistance movement, and his father Laverde (Gambon) take Charlotte a.k.a. Dominique into their lives without question, believing she's been sent to help. Charlotte initially believes that as well, but a string of unfortunate events soon reveals a secret, ugly reason behind her presence there. While battling the Germans with any means at their disposal, Julien and Charlotte are also trying to keep two young Jewish boys, Andre and Jacob, from being picked up by the local constables.

"Of these three, which in your view is the most important: Faith, hope or love?"

If captured, they will be sent to a concentration camp in Poland, just like their parents. Their desperate attempts to save the boys from a certain death sentence, places both their lives at risk and forces Julien to make a heartbreaking choice. (Sound familiar?) In the end, their beliefs send them on different paths, with Charlotte landing back in London right where she started. A surprise meeting reveals what should be her hearts desire, but instead makes her experiences undercover all the more important. It is France that now holds her heart. Since nothing much is revealed about Charlotte before she becomes a spy, her character arc is never fully realized. The only difference between Charlotte and Dominique is Blanchett's hair color. To make this film truly work, we needed to see her put all her training to good use, actually become someone separate from her past. Then the final payoff would have been worth the struggle. We're told she speaks French like a native, but she never does once she reaches France. It's understandable, since this is an English production, however, it compromises the integrity of the story. I'm not saying I wanted to sit through an hour of subtitles, but a little French would have helped make the transformation from everyday gal to gun-toting super spy more believable. Despite this flaw, her performance is the only thing that keeps this film afloat.

There is a palpable spark between Blanchett and Penry-Jones which gives their instant love affair great passion and makes her insane notion, that she can save him, one you think she might be able to pull off. Love is a powerful emotion and they capture it's intense grip in a short amount of time. She also manages to have intriguing chemistry with Crudup. Since their relationship is based on trust and survival, it never feels like a betrayal of her past love. It's a fine line the film walks perfectly. Though the plot has many heart-pounding moments, they seem all too familiar, making them fail to resonate with any real emotion. The pacing is also too jumpy, torn between moments of desperate action and quiet understanding. The sub-plot with the boys appears to be thrown in to cover the Jewish angle, while giving Charlotte something to fill her downtime between spying duties. Not only is she a fearless revolutionary, but a caring, mother figure as well. In this case, actions don't create depth of character.

The film raises too many issues to cover them all with the appropriate amount of energy, thereby leaving all of them feeling rushed and unfinished. This is an intimate story filled with life-defining moments of self-sacrifice and heroism that somehow left me feeling sad and uninspired. It's hard to connect with Charlotte because we never get a clear sense of who she really is. Blanchett tries to make her distinct and compelling, but the story leaves her high and dry. All of the performances, especially those by Crudup and Gambon, have moments of exceptional power. It's too bad the story isn't up to their talent. CHARLOTTE GRAY is a first-rate effort that delivers average results. Entertaining enough if you like the actors or are interested in the period, but nothing that will be fondly remembered.

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