The Movie Archive

The Truth about Charlie

Movie Poster of 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: Thriller
Country: USA
Year released: 2002
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 also set in Paris.

Of course, if you know Charade, then the plot is familiar. Arriving home from a holiday, intent on divorce, Regina Lambert (MI:2’s Newton, who carries the whole film almost single-handed) finds that her Paris apartment has been emptied and her husband’s corpse has been found thrown from a train. Her husband, Charles (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, but is also being pursued by Charles’ ex-partners, who want their money back. Help is offered by both a handsome stranger, Joshua Peters (the artist formerly known as Marky Mark), who is not all that he appears, and a US agent (Robbins), who tells her that the money actually belongs to the US Government and she has to help get it back.

For a successful remake, you either have to plunder a source that was little seen (Insomnia) or offer a significant improvement on a little-loved original (Ocean’s 11). But there are some films you just can’t dick around with. Any film which is considered a classic invariably cannot measure up to the fondly-cherished memory of the original. Charade is one of these. And every step of the way, you find yourself comparing The Truth About Charlie to its original source and finding the modern version wanting in almost every conceivable way.

Actually, that’s not really fair to Newton who is easily the best thing about the film. Newton’s Reggie manages to capture most of the style and grace of Hepburn, but adding some intelligence and grit.

But, essentially, at the heart of the film there are two key performances which are just so dreadful 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?). He is so ill-suited to fill the shoes of Cary Grant, the debonair master of the romantic thriller, that it’s like watching a man drowning but being helpless to prevent it. 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.

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 and indistinguished concrete. They could have filmed in Prague or Budapest for half the price and you’d never have known the difference.

Yet somehow—maybe it’s the African-inflected score or the sheer incredulity at what they’ve done—I can’t bring myself to hate this film. Probably because of Thandie Newton.