Since they've been made to excess, spy films have to be intensely personal or political to be effective, embracing either sex and/or politics as their raison d'être. And one must hope director Gillian Armstrong (Oscar and Lucinda, High Tide) will find the right balance between them in 2001's Charlotte Gray, as she has strong, sexy leads in Cate Blanchett and Billy Crudup. Moreover, by utilizing a female spy, the picture offers an interesting angle on the standard World War II template. That Armstrong wastes her leads in a boring movie makes it all the more a disappointment. Blanchett stars as the titular character, who was a typical British girl until she entered training as a secret agent after her boyfriend was believed dead. Because Charlotte speaks perfect French, she's sent (by parachute no less) into Vichy territory. Her contact is the handsome resistance fighter Julien (Crudup), but she's quickly alerted to the deadly reality of her situation as, on her first assignment, the police capture one of her co-conspirators. Charlotte then gets a job with Julien's father Levade (Michael Gambon), who runs a farmhouse where he keeps two Jewish boys whose parents were captured by Nazis. But there's a leak in Charlotte's information chain, and loyalties become tested. Charlotte Gray has all the necessary elements to be a tense, sexy thriller, but the screenplay by Jeremy Brock (based on the novel by Sebastian Faulks) isn't up to the challenge, and director Armstrong may have been trying to make a different movie than what ended up on screen simply put, in all the ways the film should work, it doesn't. The result comprises scenes of attractive and talented actors with nothing to do. There's supposed to be a sort of love triangle/forbidden attraction between Blanchett and Crudup, but it's unnoticeable, and the good cinematography (by Dion Bebbe) is lost on a film that doesn't live up to its potential. Warner's Charlotte Gray DVD presents the film in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras include a trailer, two featurettes, a cast/crew section, and a feature-length commentary by Armstrong that is about as interesting as the movie. Snap-case.
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