Note: Don't forget to check out "The Truth About Charlie, Demme, & Thandie" - themovieboy.com talks with Academy Award winning director, Jonathan Demme, and Beloved star, Thandie Newton, about their new movie The Truth About Charlie.
Jonathan Demme is almost a consistently fine director, the man behind the camera of such powerful works as 1991's "The Silence of the Lambs," 1993's "Philadelphia," and 1998's "Beloved
." With his latest film, "The Truth About Charlie," Demme's luck has finally run out. A remake of the 1963 Cary Grant/Audrey Hepburn-starred "Charade" (unseen by me), "The Truth About Charlie" is an at-times effective, cinematically stylish homage to French New Wave cinema, but quickly gets mired in a hodgepodge of messy and unremittingly ludicrous plot developments. Favoring visuals over character development has the ability to work if given the right hand. Unfortunately, Demme wants to have his cake and eat it too. He expects the viewer to care about the fates of his characters, but never offers up a single volatile reason for why they should.
Regina Lampert (Thandie Newton) returns home to Paris from a relaxing Caribbean vacation to discover her apartment ransacked, all of her possessions taken, and her ultra-wealthy husband, Charlie (Stephen Dillane), murdered. Making things even worse, she is informed by Commandant Dominique (Christine Boisson) that Charlie was not at all what he seemed, with a variety of separate identities spanning the world. Regina is asked to help Dominique and the forthright Mr. Bartholomew (Tim Robbins) investigate his murder, all the while putting herself in harm's way of a variety of mysterious people who are all after Charlie's money. One person who may not be who he seems is the charming Joshua Peters (Mark Wahlberg), an American with the ability to sweep Regina under his rapturous spell.
The most obvious shortcoming in "The Truth About Charlie" is its lack of underlying substance. Every character is either all surface, or present for the sole reason of standing around and looking suspicious. No onenot even protagonist Reginais developed at all outside of what the plot-heavy goings-on requires. Moreover, Regina is the one human figure we are asked to sympathize with, but at every turn she exposes herself to be rather dim, always doing the dumbest or most unlikely things possible in each situation.
Apparently, one of the delights of "Charade" was the witty banter and sizzling chemistry Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn possessed. In comparison, the sluggish romance found in "The Truth About Charlie" is so sterile it passes as a mere afterthought. Thandie Newton (2000's "Mission: Impossible 2
") is a radiant presence, as usual, doing what she can with a part that doesn't give Regina the brains necessary to carry the film. All that is missing is a male co-star for Newton that holds up their end of the bargain. In surely one of his weakest performances, Mark Wahlberg (2000's "The Perfect Storm
"), as the cryptic and alluring Joshua Peters, comes close to embarrassing himself. Whether he is reciting a line or simply reacting, Wahlberg is way over his head in a part that deserved a weightier thespian.
Not for a lack of trying, the promising supporting cast gets lost within the restricting confines of the convoluted plot. As three of Charlie's former military mates who believe they deserve his wealth, Joong-Hoon Park, Lisa Gay Hamilton (1998's "Beloved
"), and Ted Levine (2001's "Evolution
") are solid. Only Christine Boisson, as the saucy Commandant Dominique, manages to squeak in a few extra character shades than what was clearly on the written page.
There are singular moments of quirky inspiration found in "The Truth About Charlie," such as when Regina and Joshua are listening to recording artist Charles Aznavour only for him to appear in the flesh to serenade them. The eclectic, internationally-flavored soundtrack selections add some much-needed energy, as well. A climactic scene set on a bridge between Regina and an anonymous woman in black is artfully powerful. All of director Jonathan Demme's inventive flourishes, however, are at the service of a decidedly empty, boneheaded final product that refuses to give the audience anything to care about, or anyone to actively root for.
©2002 by Dustin Putman