Charlotte Gray (2001)
Blanchett's Gray Thriller
Do you mind not approaching me in public? I'm rather keen on staying alive - Mirabel
"Charlotte Gray" is a beautiful movie, which may sound slightly wrong for a war time spy thriller, but the camera work is brilliant, the soundtrack adds atmosphere and there is not a single performance that feels wrong yet for a war time spy thriller "Charlotte Gray" is surprisingly dull. In fact whilst the story to "Charlotte Gray" sees a young woman heading into the danger zone of France to be a courier between the British and the French resistance has moments of danger they end up not being that exciting. It almost has a feeling that director Gillian Armstrong was trying not to be cliche when it came to making "Charlotte Gray" exciting but by doing so causes it to lack that excitement which gets you gripped and drawn to the edge of your seat. All of which is a shame as not only is the storyline prime to be both exciting and gripping but also because on a technical level "Charlotte Gray" is a stunning movie.
Having studied in France, Charlotte Gray (Cate Blanchett - Pushing Tin) is exactly what the secret service are looking for to become a courier for the French resistance. And when after a whirlwind romance with an RAF pilot Charlotte learns that he has been shot down over France she goes through the spy training so that she can be sent to France and work for the resistance whilst using her connections to discover his whereabouts. But Charlotte discovers that she can trust no one when it comes to her role as courier as she has to deal with violence and betrayal.
One of the issues that I have with "Charlotte Gray" is that we come to know that Charlotte decides to go through spy school and head to the dangers of France because her boyfriend Peter has been shot down somewhere over the country. In a way it's a nice element which should make Charlotte's quest a personal one but then because the actual romance of Charlotte and pilot Peter is dealt with in a very fleeting manner you don't connect to it, you don't feel that Charlotte is deeply in love with Peter to the point that she would throw herself into a dangerous situation to try and find him. And having been parachuted into France the occasional mention of Charlotte looking for him almost feels out of place, thrown in in almost a forced manner to try and remind us why Charlotte was so keen to be stationed in France in the first place.
But that is a minor issue which for me stops what is a beautifully constructed movie being more than just average but the biggest issue is that for a war time spy thriller "Charlotte Gray" is not that thrilling. So okay we have the dangers as we watch Charlotte come close to trouble on a few occasions and you have the secret meetings and code words which are used but the actual sense of intrigue and danger never really materialises. And so whilst there are dramatic scenes such as the resistance attacking a train or a group of resistance men being gunned down by the Nazi's, it is lacking that element of thrill which draws you to the edge of your seat. It almost feels like director Gillian Armstrong didn't want to be cliche in making it exciting and didn't want to resort to huge action scenes but then by not doing the obvious ends up causing the movie to lack that real sense of thrill. And so whilst you have the drama of the story as Charlotte discovers what war does to people it never really builds up the tension to stop it from playing at almost one level.
And not being as thrilling as it should be is a shame because "Charlotte Gray" is a very well made movie which some brilliant camera work, such as the sweeping shot of a train going across a viaduct which welcomes us as the movie starts. And even those moments of danger such as the resistance attacking a train look wonderful on a visual level plus the soundtrack works brilliantly to create atmosphere. But it all feels wasted because the excitement is so sadly lacking.
And to be honest there is not a bad performance in the entire movie with both Billy Crudup and Michael Gambon delivering solid performances as Julien Levade and his father. But "Charlotte Gray" is very much Cate Blanchett's movie and what is amazing is that with Charlotte taking on the persona of a French woman it never feels wrong, as Blanchett basically manages to make both her characters believable. And frankly very few actresses could have pulled it off with such natural effectiveness from getting the emotion just right through to the steely eyed determination as we watch Charlotte risk her life for those she ends up protecting.
What this all boils down to is that despite having a good story, some wonderful performances and basically being a very well made movie on a technical level "Charlotte Gray" ends up surprisingly average because it's not exciting. For a spy thriller the excitement of the danger never really materialises and so instead "Charlotte Gray" plays out like an interesting drama rather than a riveting thriller.
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