Film review: Charlotte Gray

Published: Friday, Feb. 8 2002 7:48 a.m. MST

When even someone as talented as Cate Blanchett can't make your movie interesting, it's got some serious problems.

Actually, for a change, it's Blanchett who's at least partially to blame for "Charlotte Gray" being a disappointing melodrama/war thriller, though it would seem to have all the right ingredients in place for something bigger and better.

After all, the film has a promising concept, based Sebastian Faulks' best-selling novel of the same name about a British woman who becomes a spy during World War II. But that concept has been rendered pedestrian, resulting in a surprisingly dull movie.

This marks the second time that Aussie actress Blanchett has teamed with Down-Under director Gillian Armstrong, the first time on the similarly leaden "Oscar & Lucinda." Perhaps this should be their last collaboration.

In London during the early days of World War II, the title character (Blanchett) meets and falls in love with dashing RAF pilot Peter Gregory (Rupert Penry-Jones). So she is naturally horrified to hear that Peter been shot down over Nazi-occupied France and is presumed missing.

Feeling powerless, Charlotte agrees to go undercover as a spy in France. There, she believes she'll be able to help the war efforts, as well as find out more about Peter's fate. Instead, however, she begins falling for Julien (a horribly miscast Billy Crudup), the leader of Resistance forces in the area. Together, the two of them try to protect two young Jewish boys (Lewis Crutch and Matthew Plato) whose missing parents are being sought after by French police collaborating with the Nazis.

Admittedly, Armstrong's adaptation is handsome-looking, but it's poorly paced. As a result, what few action scenes there are have no punch whatsoever and there's virtually no suspense. Also, for someone who's proven herself adept at mimicking accents, Blanchett really struggles with her Scottish brogue here. But it's still better than the unrecognizable French accent Crudup attempts. (Smartly, veteran British character actor Michael Gambon, who plays Julien's estranged father, doesn't even attempt the French accent and therefore comes through unscathed.)

"Charlotte Gray" is rated PG-13 for war violence (shootings and explosive mayhem), scattered strong profanity, brief sex (fairly discreet) and brief gore. Running time: 118 minutes.


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