The Movie Archive

The Truth about Charlie (2002)

screenshot from The Truth about Charlie

Directed by: Jonathan Demme
Screenwriter(s): Jonathan Demme, Steve Schmidt
Starring: Thandie Newton, Mark Wahlberg, Christine Boisson, Tim Robbins, Ted Levine
Genre: Crime / Thriller
Country: USA
Running time: 1h 45m
Rating: 4 out of 10

Charade (1963) is a classic Hitchcock-esque romantic thriller set in Paris, starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. It was stylish, perfectly cast, tightly scripted and directed with a pleasingly light touch by Stanley Donen. Its remake, The Truth About Charlie, is a film set in Paris.

If you know Charade, then the plot is familiar. Arriving home from a holiday, intent on divorce, Regina Lambert (Newton, who all but carries the film single-handed) finds that her Paris apartment has been emptied and her husband’s corpse has been found thrown from a train. Her husband, the Charlie of the title, has ripped off a crack US Armed Forces counter-intelligence group of some $6million, but there’s no sign of the cash among the meagre possessions found with his body.

Regina finds that she’s not only a suspect in the murder, but also presumed to be an accomplice in the theft, being pursued by Charles’ ex-partners who want their money back. Help is offered by both a handsome stranger, Joshua Peters (Wahlberg), and a US agent (Robbins) who claims that the money rightfully belongs to the US Government and that Reggie has to help get it back.

At the heart of the film there are two key performances which are just so wrong that it’s hard to get past them. The chief criminal is Wahlberg as Joshua Peters (Grant played Peter Joshua—do you see what they did there?). There is a place for Mark Wahlberg in modern cinema, but that place is not in filling the shoes of Cary Grant, the debonair master of the romantic thriller. He is so badly miscast here that it defies all logic. Robbins, though, is a real disappointment. Whether he or his writer-director chose to have him play his entire role in Walter Matthau’s accent, it’s a move which fails on a catastrophic scale.

There’s also a weird thing going on with hats: both Wahlberg and Robbins are mostly seen wearing either a beret or a fedora. Now, I am fairly sure that the point of this is meant to be a subtle hint as to when they’re supposed to be seen as good guys or slightly shady. But neither of them suits a beret and Wahlberg especially looks like a kid playing grown-up in a fedora. It doesn’t work and it’s not even clever.

Director-writer Demme doesn’t help matters with a script that rings so obviously false, so unbelievably trite, that you could have been forgiven for thinking that Charade had originally been filmed in French and then translated by someone who hadn’t paid enough attention at high school.

To add insult to injury, Paris—known internationally as the City of Light—is turned into a rain-swept warren of oppressive back streets, alleyways and indistinguished concrete. They could have filmed in Prague or Budapest for half the price and you’d never have known the difference until Charles Aznavour turns up at the end to break the fourth wall and sing the theme tune stright to camera, while the cast also stare out at you in a vaguely creepy manner.

Throughout, you find yourself comparing The Truth about Charlie to the original, and with the exception of Newton’s performance—she’s chic and classy but with modern grit—it fails spectacularly. There’s no point in the entire movie when I wouldn’t rather just be watching Charade.