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The Truth About Charlie

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Jan
The Truth About Charlie

from Film Forum, 10/31/02

The Truth About Charlie is the latest film from Jonathan Demme, director of The Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia, but it's quite a change from the somber, troubling tone of those films. In fact, it's a lively, loose remake of the famous romantic adventure Charade. This time it stars Mark Wahlberg (Three Kings, Planet of the Apes) in the Cary Grant part and Thandie Newton (Flirting, Beloved, Mission Impossible 2) in the Audrey Hepburn role.

Religious press critics, like many mainstream critics, spend most of their time complaining that the film should not have been made at all because Charade is such a classic. But some looked past the inevitable failure of the film to surpass the original, and found it to have some virtues all its own.

"It's best to see it without making continual comparisons to Charade, which is in a class by itself," says Gerri Pare (Catholic News). She goes on to celebrate Charlie, pointing out its subtle flourishes. She recognizes it as "an homage to the French New Wave cinema of the 1960s as well as a valentine to Paris. Visual backgrounds are sprinkled with French film references and inside jokes. Charles Aznavour shows up both in a vintage film clip from Francois Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Player and within the movie as a white-haired singer whose love song ends the film on a whimsically upbeat note." She praises "a vibrancy in Demme's film technique … that infuses the story with touches of humor even as characters croak. He gets winning performances from his cast."

Sophisticated references and tributes like this did not impress other religious press critics. Holly McClure (Crosswalk) calls it "a charade. It's marginally entertaining and can't even be compared to the classic Charade. Remind yourselves of what great dialogue, a well-written script, and superb acting used to look like and rent the original." Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) sums it up as "a jumbled, irritating mess of a movie." Movieguide's critic calls it "a witless remake … poorly made and uninspired." And Mary Draughon (Preview) says the movie "misses our mark of acceptability with depictions of graphic violence." She adds, "This remake has none of the traditional charm of Paris."

Steven Isaac (Focus on the Family) disagrees: "The Parisian backdrop seems even more compelling than it did in 1963. And Mark Wahlberg looks pretty spiffy sporting a French accent and a black beret." He concludes, "Charlie's not even playing in the same ballpark as Charade. But it does manage to create its own identity. The pacing is energetic and buoyant."

Mainstream critics offered mixed reviews, but those who perceived it as having different aims than the original seemed to enjoy it. Kent Honeycutt (Hollywood Reporter) says, "Charlie is one of those movies where you have to believe everyone had a ball making the film. The ghosts of movies past turn up at every corner. [It] may mystify younger moviegoers with characters and scenes that play with one's memory of characters and scenes from old movies. But Mark Wahlberg and Thandie Newton make likable romantic leads, the action and mystery mix as well as they did in the original, and Demme has assembled a superb cast and crew that gets caught up in the spirit of the production."

Elvis Mitchell (The New York Times) says, "Sometimes you fall in love with a movie, even when you should know better. And there's a great possibility that will happen with Charlie. That infatuation is possible in part because the director uses the nervous energy that he suppressed in more formal works like Philadelphia and The Silence of the Lambs. So you may be taken by the director's enormous enthusiasm, but the picture doesn't quite work."

from Film Forum, 11/07/02

The Truth About Charlie, also covered last week, drew some positive responses this week from David Bruce (Hollywood Jesus). But Phil Boatwright calls it "a silly, completely unnecessary rip-off. This isn't merely a lightweight version of a classic. It's a soulless, pale imitation."