Charlotte Gray Reviews
Now why did the critics in 2002 not want you to see this movie? Because 2001 had "changed the world forever" which meant, "From now on, don't ask questions." This movie asks them and answers them. To summarize, let me quote Aquinas: war is so morally problematic, only the best people should engage in it.
But still quite a good film could have been so much better with a more realistic theme.
Solid acting, decent script, and incredible locations with an evenly set intensity create a good film set during WWII.
But, it's undone by some things that make it appealing:
-beautiful cinematography makes it seem glossy and almost dreamlike,
-filmed entirely in English with few accents makes it a bit emotionally hollow,
-the strong dramatic performances are well pitched yet come across as slick here, and
-despite the underpinnings of wartime intensity this is light and bloodless for a war movie.
It could have been marketed as a tween romance and maybe rivaled the later vapid vampire craze, but I need to emphasize the acting is superb here, yet tainted by some of its other elements.
Worth a look.
3 out of 5
A plot that often lacks credibility, not to mention much action.
There are some hints of improbability in this film, and although they peak with the incorporation of a melodramatic romantic angle in the narrative, a number of things don't sell, especially with a sentimental atmosphere at their back, although they probably would be easier to buy into if they were more fleshed out. Plenty is undercooked in this relatively meek WWII Nazi drama which all but abandons disturbing imagery and forces in only a couple of tragedies, underplaying a sense of danger and consequence whose limitations render them unable to fully compensate for a shortage on immediate background and extensive gradual exposition that distances you a bit from the characters and their role in an uneven narrative. The film is split into several segments, which are not episodic, but feel like they are, due to the film's spending too much time with each individual layer, whose eventual replacement, if not dismissal, proves to be jarring. There's something a little excessive about the storytelling, which is too fatty around the edges to keep coherent, or even keep up a brisk pace, which is further retarded by a subdued directorial atmosphere that gets to be bland, though never really dull. The big complaint is about how boring this film is, but I was never really bored, very there is plenty of dialogue and stuff going on, and it's all backed with some sense of urgency, yet the momentum remains defused by the film's unevenly meandering along a path that, on top of everything, is predictable. This film has the potential to be fresh, but as a WWII drama of its type, it's seriously generic, failing to do anything new or substantially interesting, even when it forces in certain other, theatrical tropes, and also failing to generate enough spark to make the final product all that compelling. The film fails to truly resonate, but there are compelling elements, which aren not necessarily plentiful, yet are decisive, with fair dramatic value and production value.
Art director Su Whitaker doesn't really do anything especially unique or sweeping with her restoration of 1940s London and Vichy France, but her crafting of this period drama's distinct setting is convincing enough to be immersive, and goes polished by Dion Beebe's often flat, and just as often glamorous cinematography. Even the artistic integrity of the film is a little undercooked, but style, reflected in the art direction, cinematography and, to an arguably lesser extent, score work, by Stephen Warbeck, is perhaps a little more consistent than the substance. With that said, there is plenty to commend in the substance, at least in concept, for although this story isn't anything particularly new or especially believable, with only so much depth and consequence as a French Resistance drama, subject matter regarding the agency of the French Resistance is pretty interesting, and a plot about a woman trying to keep from getting emotionally compromised on a mission within a war that is taking from her so much of what she loves. The telling of this fairly promising story obscures much of the depth because of its messiness, but for only so long, before dramatic significance is done some genuine justice by a well-intentioned directorial performance by Gillian Armstrong which ranges from atmospherically bland to tonally overblown, but rarely falls too limp with its pacing, and even more rarely loses a sense of dramatic inspiration. Whether or not Armstrong's inspiration is able to stand its ground against the misguidance of Jeremy Brock's script is an entirely different matter, for the final product fails to resonate enough to be all that compelling, even with subject matter this weighty, yet there is a heart in this film that is consistently endearing, and if there is consistency to a sense of humanity, then it stands within the performances. Michael Gambon is charismatic in the usual manner, and Billy Crudup puts on a fairly convincing accent and presence as a Resistance member struggling to defend the integrity of his country and the safety of his family and friends, while the real standout in a cast full of talents is leading lady Cate Blanchett who is surprisingly gorgeous, and unsurprising effective, projecting enough strength to sell a woman who is willing to fight for the sake of the innocent, and gradually layering on raw human emotion and vulnerability in order to sell the woman's strife when her life and the lives of people she either has cared or is growing to care a great for go threatened. Blanchett isn't given much to work with, and her titular Charlotte Gray character is written too thinly to really enthrall, even if she is as fleshed out as any aspect in this undercooked drama, but Blanchett remains something of a powerhouse who drives much of the heart and soul of this misguided, but well-intentioned and often engaging opus.
Overall, the film isn't consistently believable, nor is it well-rounded in its exposition or even in its slightly segmented structure, although it does have enough fat around the edges and dryness in its atmosphere to fall into a number of slow spells along a path that is too generic to really intrigue, thus, the final product fails to resonate enough to stand a chance of transcending underwhelmingness, although it is well-intentioned, and conceptually worthy, done enough aesthetic justice by convincing art direction and handsome cinematography, and enough dramatic justice by highlights in direction and acting - whose effectiveness is most prominent within a beautiful and layered Cate Blanchett - to secure Gillian Armstrong's "Charlotte Gray" as an adequately engaging, rather lacking tribute to the women of the French Resistance during WWII.
2.5/5 - Fair