Truth About Charlie, The (United States, 2002)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Remaking movies is always a risky endeavor, and remaking a classic can border on the foolhardy. Taken on its own terms, however, Jonathan Demme's The Truth About Charlie, a '00s re-interpretation of the 1963 thriller Charade, is a decent – and even engaging – motion picture. It's not a great movie, or even a very good one, but, if you try not to compare it too much to the original, it works. Given the option, it's better to see Charade, which easily tops Demme's version for star power, if nothing else, but The Truth About Charlie has its own set of charms, not the least of which is Thandie Newton.

The #1 reason to see this movie is Newton, whose varied career has spanned more than a decade. From the Australian romantic comedy Flirting to Demme's own Beloved and John Woo's Mission: Impossible 2, Newton has done just about every kind of film imaginable while remaining just under the radar of most mainstream movie-goers. Since The Truth About Charlie isn't likely to break any box office records, this will not be Newton's opportunity to rocket into the elite group of A-list actresses, but those who see the movie will agree she belongs in that circle. This is a star-quality performance. Newton draws our attention like a magnet, and acts circles around her better known co-star, Mark Wahlberg. And, while Newton may temporarily displace the image of Audrey Hepburn (who played the same role in Charade), Walhberg does nothing to eclipse that of Cary Grant.

Newton is Regina Lampert, the perplexed widow of a guy named Charlie, who has about as many last names as a cat has lives. (This being a thriller, nearly every one has at least two names.) Charlie was involved in some sort of sinister plot involving betrayal, stolen diamonds, and $6 million in cash, but now he's dead and a group of nasty-looking people think Regina is hiding the money. In addition to a trio of unsavory thugs (Joong-Hoon Park, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Ted Levine) who are dogging her every move, she has to contend with a Parisian police commandant (Christine Boisson) who is unsure of her innocence and a kindly "stars-and-bars company man" named Mr. Bartholomew (Tim Robbins). Thankfully, Regina has someone to turn to in Joshua Peters (Mark Wahlberg), about whom she gushes, "You know what's wrong with you? Absolutely nothing!" That, of course, is a powerful clue that something very definitely is wrong with Joshua, and, as the body count around Regina mounts, she realizes that.

The storyline follows the typical rhythms of this sort of movie. Even if you haven't seen Charade, you're unlikely to be surprised by much that happens. The chief pleasure of The Truth About Charlie is watching Newton re-define Regina as her own. Wahlberg makes a reasonable foil for her, and there's evidence of some playful chemistry between them, but it's easy enough to determine that this is Newton's movie, and Wahlberg is along for the ride. The twisty plot is just spice added to the sauce.

Demme has a history of using locations to enhance atmosphere. The Silence of Lambs succeeded as well as it did because of this, and Philadelphia was more than a mere backdrop in the Tom Hanks/Denzel Washington feature of the same name. For The Truth About Charlie, Demme took his cast and crew to Paris, and the City of Lights becomes a vital part of the movie's tapestry. This is a grittier, more real Paris than the one idealized in so many movies, and it works well in the context of the film. Also, by filming in Paris, Demme is able to sneak in a few unusual cameos, such as singer/actor Charles Aznavour (as himself) and filmmaker Agnes Varda.

From a plot standpoint, The Truth About Charlie doesn't venture far from the path paved by Charade. Militant devotees of the original will likely despise the remake, but those who view Demme's version as an affectionate homage, or those who have never seen Charade (sadly, a significant group of ticket buyers will fit into this category), will likely be entertained. I appreciate The Truth About Charlie in much the same way I appreciate Charade, proving that it is possible to like one without being disappointed by the other.

Truth About Charlie, The (United States, 2002)

Run Time: 1:44
U.S. Release Date: 2002-10-25
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Sexual Content, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1