Combustible Celluloid
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With: Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup, Michael Gambon, James Fleet, Abigail Cruttenden, Charlotte McDougall, Rupert Penry-Jones, Robert Hands, Charlie Condou, Victoria Scarborough, David Birkin, Rosanna Lavelle, Anton Lesser
Written by: Jeremy Brock, based on a novel by Sebastian Faulks
Directed by: Gillian Armstrong
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some war related violence, sensuality and brief strong language
Running Time: 121
Date: 12/17/2001

Charlotte Gray (2001)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Women at War

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It irks me during Oscar season that my tastes tend to run completely contrary to other reviewers around me. I found the cloying, disease-of-the-week films A Beautiful Mind and Iris horribly mediocre, begging for adoration and awards.

By the same token, I found myself enjoying Gillian Armstrong's latest effort Charlotte Gray for precisely the same reasons -- because it did not attempt to create the boring old Oscar formula. Rather, it concentrated on an old-fashioned Casablanca-type love story set during WWII, when a new love could be ripped apart, at any time for any reason.

All of my colleagues hated it, and many called it outright garbage.

Similarly, I enjoyed The Man Who Cried from earlier this year while many of my colleagues dismissed it. Besides a WWII setting and a doomed romance at their center, the two films have in common Cate Blanchett and women directors, Armstrong and Sally Potter. I have a feeling that this feminine touch is what I'm responding to.

WWII stories made by men this year, Pearl Harbor, Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Dark Blue World and others tend to slop on the sentiment and concentrate on battle scenes to cover for their lack of a light touch. Potter and Armstrong both include spectacle scenes in their films, but only kept secondary to the plot.

In Charlotte Gray Blanchett plays the title heroine who becomes a spy in order to be near a handsome soldier she's met. Literally dropped by parachute into the French countryside, she doesn't find her man, but instead meets up with Michael Gambon and his revolutionary son, Billy Crudup. They spend their time trying sabotage the Nazis while protecting their loved ones.

Many people have complained about the silly nature of the love story (the lovers pretend to be having sex to distract a guard so that they can knock him unconscious and escape) and the miscasting of Crudup as a French Resistance soldier. It is silly, but so are quite a few established classics from the 1940s. And it seems to me that Blanchett has never been more radiant and Crudup never more appealing.

Maybe I don't have much of an argument to defend this sweet movie other than it did not set off my B.S. detector while I watched it. Certainly it's not as thoughtful as some of Armstrong's earlier pictures -- such as High Tide and Oscar and Lucinda -- but Charlotte Gray fares far better than a mere blotch on her resume.

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