Charlotte Gray

Gray is the color of drab. The word is synonymous with dull, boring, and any other similar word. "Gray" is the perfect last name for Charlotte Gray, the title character in the adaptation of Sebastian Faulks' novel. Charlotte Gray the movie is simply boring. It never manages to achieve any sort of excitement or romance, it just sort of chugs along. It was bound to happen to Cate Blanchett, quite possibly the hardest working actor in Hollywood right now. In the past year or so, she had roles of varying degrees in The Shipping News, The Fellowship of the Ring, Bandits, The Gift, and The Man Who Cried. Except for The Fellowship of the Ring, none of those movies were that good, and Charlotte Gray continues that trend. Sure, Blanchett can act the heck out of a role, but she needs to start picking movies that have the same quality as her performances.

Gray is a British woman who falls in love with Peter Gregory (Rupert Penry-Jones, Virtual Sexuality, Still Crazy), a pilot. They have a brief but passionate relationship before he goes missing in France. This inspires Gray, who speaks French, to volunteer to go to France as a spy for the Allies. She tells them she wants to help, but in actuality she believes she can find Gregory. In France, she meets Julien Lavade (Billy Crudup, Almost Famous, Waking the Dead), a Communist and member of the French Resistance. Gray acts as a courier for the British and helps Lavade and his Allies in their small battles against the Nazis. Lavade is idealistic, handsome, and single, and it is inevitable that the two begin to fall in love.

Crudup is another great actor, and like Blanchett, has nothing to do here. In his other films he has a charismatic presence completely lost here behind the brash Communist character. As a character, Gray is uninteresting because no one can identify with her. Director Gillian Armstrong (Oscar and Lucinda, Not Fourteen Again) moves quickly over Gregory and Gray's relationship, making Gray's deep love look like a quick infatuation. Worse, it makes her trip to France look more like an impulsive act rather than one born of deep love. Moreover, she is a horrible spy. She manages to bungle her major assignments, and it is a wonder that Lavade still has an interest in her. Lavade is intense about his emotions, the opposite of Gray. Her sense of loss defines her. She is quiet, withdrawn, unsure, and frequently nervous and edgy.

Armstrong and screenwriter Jeremy Brock (Mrs. Brown, The Widowmaker) never seem to know quite what to make of Gray. Their lack of direction and character definition is what contributes to a general sense of blah. The only animated character is Levarde (Michael Gambon, Gosford Park, Perfect Strangers), Lavade's father. He is a bitter, crotchety old man, who, if he were a women, would be played by Judi Dench. Another annoying aspect of Charlotte Gray is its exclusive use of English. In Britain, people speak with an English accent. In French, they speak English with a French accent. Only the Germans speak their native tongue. Sure it makes the movie more accessible, but it also cheapens the dramatic effect. Blanchett speaks English continuously, making Gray's meager skills as a spy even less impressive. In Charlotte Gray, Armstrong was trying to make a movie dealing with grand themes like love and loss, but fails to achieve these lofty goals. Oh well, at least the scenery is pretty.

Mongoose Rates It: Not That Good.
2 hours, 1 minute, Rated PG-13 for some war related violence, sensuality, and brief strong language.

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