The Truth About Charlie Review
Thandie Newton has a problem. She’s recently returned from a holiday to find her apartment ransacked and her husband dead. To make matters worse, she’s a suspect in his murder case and a number of people are following her, in search of six million dollars. Initially some, like Mark Wahlberg and Tim Robbins, seem friendly and others, Ted Levine, Joong-Hoon Park and Lisa Gay Hamilton not quite so. Of course, The Truth About Charlie being a twist-laden action thriller, nobody is quite who they seem...
A remake of the 1963 picture Charade, The Truth About Charlie seems an odd picture to be directed by Jonathan Demme. As well as winning an Oscar for The Silence of the Lambs and directing the first major Hollywood picture to deal with AIDS, Philadelphia, Demme has always been more at home with much simpler movies, whether they be works of fiction or documentaries. Certainly, the likes of Melvin and Howard, Swimming to Cambodia and Storefront Hitchcock prove to be far more rewarding than this uneasy mess. And yet, nestled amongst these more minute pieces, Demme has also worked on a couple of kooky comedy thrillers, Married to the Mob and Something Wild, with endearing results. In fact, the reference to Something Wild is notable as it too features some twists in its tail and never quite ends up where you think it may be going. However, that film also had some terrific performances from Melanie Griffith, Jeff Daniels and a particularly menacing Ray Liotta in a role he’s never quite shaken off.
This dash of menace was one of the elements that proved to make the original Charade so memorable. Despite its aim to pay homage to the lighter Hitchcock thrillers such as To Catch a Thief or North by Northwest, it also found room for some wonderful, and occasionally nasty, support from Walter Matthau, James Coburn and George Kennedy. With The Truth About Charlie we’re also offered some find actors, yet their performances seem peculiarly misjudged; rather than go for anything that may slightly resemble menacing, they adopt an almost comic book approach, divesting the film of any tension it maybe aiming for.
More problematically, the two leads offer a bigger failure when comparing the two films. As anyone who has seen the Stanley Donen picture will be aware, the great pleasure of Charade was the pairing of Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. Despite their differing ages, Grant’s 59 to Hepburn’s 36, the pair still proved remarkably sexy together, as well as being able to produce the laughs. In contrast, The Truth About Charlie offers early-thirtysomethings Mark Wahlberg and Thandie Newton, who nowhere near approach the required chemistry. (Indeed, one look at a greying Tim Robbins, and it’s not difficult to hope that he had taken the lead.) Undoubtedly, both have proven to be fine actors, yet these roles prove to be out of their league. Newton has produced her best work in smaller films such as Flirting and Jefferson in Paris (as opposed to the loud action nonsense of Mission Impossible II), whereas Wahlberg hasn’t yet proven his capabilities as a leading man (Planet of the Apes, anyone?), yet is perfectly capable of holding his own in ensemble driven pieces (Boogie Nights, The Perfect Storm).
With such a dramatic lack of star power, ones attention turns to director Jonathan Demme for some sign of quality. The initial promise is there as Demme has chosen to avoid the Hitchcock path taken by the original (perhaps feeling he didn’t want to repeat himself, having already paid homage the master with 1979’s Last Embrace), instead using The Truth About Charlie to demonstrate his love for the French New Wave of the early sixties. Disappointing, Demme attempts this by way of a few telling cameos (Cleo de 5 a 7 director Agnes Varda, Tirez sur la pianiste star Charles Aznavour, and ex-wife of Jean-Luc Godard, Anna Karina) and some handheld camera work. Admittedly the photography by Tak Fujimoto looks wonderful, if you don’t mind it shaken about and view from askew angles. And, quite frankly, this self-conscious visual style simply doesn’t do the film any favours.
Similarly messy is the screenplay; written by a total of four writers (including Demme), this may explain its often uneven nature, yet most damning of all, it has also rendered the film entirely predictable. Whereas Charade had plenty on offer to engage its audience in order to distract from the fairly rudimentary plot (despite its numerous twists and turns), The Truth About Charlie is hampered at almost every level, and as such can’t help but emphasise yet another imperfection in its already overloaded collection of flaws.
Shockingly, for such a recent film, The Truth About Charlie enters the R2 market with zero extras. Thankfully, the presentation of the film is impeccable. The original ratio of 2.35:1 is adhered to, presented anamorphically and remains crisp throughout. Moreover, the frequent changes of colour, from green and red tinted scenes to natural daylight, pose no problem for the disc. Likewise, the DD5.1 is equally sound, and whilst the rear channels are rarely used the dialogue remains clear throughout. Whilst a DTS option would have been welcomes given the lack special features, this is no great loss as the available sound mix works fine.