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The Truth About
Why remake Charade? Stanley Donen's 1963 romantic thriller was pure star
vehicle, its labyrinthine plot a thin excuse for Audrey Hepburn to sport Givenchy and
crack wise with Cary Grant. Stodgy and stagebound despite its Paris setting, a product of
the studio system as it was staggering to its death, it's fondly recalled for a handful of
good oneliners and the overpowering charm of its stars.
The Truth About Charlie recasts Charade as its
aesthetic polar opposite: director and co-screenwriter Jonathan Demme has reimagined the
film as a French New Wave policier, the sort of slyly goofy film noir pastiche Francois
Truffaut was tossing off when Charade was released. Charles Aznavour strolls in
to sing a couple of seductive chansons (one in a clip from Shoot the Piano Player,
Demme's obvious inspiration), Anna Karina does a turn in a tango club, and New Wave
director Agnes Varda has a hilarious cameo. Even better, cinematographer Tak Fujimoto
updates Raoul Coutard's freewheeling handheld camerawork, keeping the audience off-balance
with vertiginous closeup pans and lunges.
It's a brilliant conceit, and it saves the film from redundancy. Charade
was a Hitchcock knockoff, after all, and Truffaut was nothing if not the world's most
ravenous Hitchcock fan. The double homage works as unintentional critique, showing how
much more fun Charade could have been if the filmmakers had been as audacious as
the irreverent cutups who were kicking the cinema back to life in Paris.
Thandie Newton plays Regina Lampert, a vacationing British newlywed
who's returning home to Paris to file for divorce. Her husband Charlie (Stephen Dillane)
is an art dealer so consumed by his business affairs that she rarely sees him. Just before
she leaves, she meets Joshua Peters (Mark Wahlberg), who makes an impression while failing
to seduce her. She returns to find a trashed apartment and a police inspector (Christine
Boisson), who drags her to the morgue to identify her husband's body. Charlie had been
travelling surreptitiously, using passports with assumed names, and had liquidated their
substantial assets before he was killed. Regina knew nothing about him, and is now a
suspect in his murder.
Joshua shows up again and offers his help after seeing a news report
about the murder, as does a mysterious Mr. Bartholomew (Tim Robbins), a representative
from the U.S. Office of Defense Cooperation. Soon Regina finds herself in the center of an
intricate double-or-triple cross involving mercenaries, espionage and $6 million in stolen
diamonds, which two governments and several murderous thugs believe she's hiding.
The Truth About Charlie manages its plot well enough, but it's
pretty silly stuff. The film is less about who has the diamonds than it is about how long
it's going to take Regina to fall into Joshua's arms. With a darker presence in the male
lead, the question of whether or not he's to be trusted would have some bite, but Wahlberg
is simply too boyish to suggest a scheming sociopath. (With Cary Grant, it was less that
he failed to suggest menace than that menace didn't matter in the face of such easy
charm.) Newton fares better with a simpler role, giving her lines a tartly flirtatious
spin that's all her own: even when she's mouthing dialogue straight from Charade
(all her best lines show up in both films), she doesn't force comparisons to Hepburn.
It's as unfair to use a director's great early work to beat up on his
uninspired newer projects as it is to compare a remake to a beloved original, but the high
gloss of this film forces the issue. Over the years, Demme has become a precise, confident
storyteller, moving ever further away from the shaggy dog lyricism of Melvin and Howard or Something Wild. For The Truth About Charlie to live up
to the wonderful films it riffs on, it needs less polish - this is a beautifully crafted
film - and more breathing room, the long plotless jags that Demme used to specialize in.
Crammed into a frantically paced state of the art thriller, the playful asides get lost,
bits of fun grafted into the wrong movie. (The funniest bit comes in the end credits,
after suspense has ceased to be an issue.) For all its inventiveness, The Truth About
Charlie is less a good movie than a good idea for one.
- Gary Mairs