The Truth About Charlie
Directed by Jonathan Demme
Written by Jonathan Demme, Steve Schmidt, Peter Stone (as Peter Joshua), Jessica Bendinger
Starring Thandie Newton, Mark Wahlberg, Tim Robbins


The Truth About Charlie

We've come to know director Jonathan Demme for the very powerful "Philadelphia" and "Silence of the Lambs," but when he falls in love, our hearts are opened, our brains shut down, and we are carried along for the ride. Think "Melvin and Howard" and "Married to the Mob," two delicious excursions into fantasy. Now, after an absence of four years from filmmaking, Demme is back with "The Truth About Charlie," a remake of the 1963 Audrey Hepburn-Cary Grant comic mystery "Charade," and he very nearly pulls it off. (One of the cowriters here is Peter Stone - credited as Peter Joshua - who wrote the original.) And Demme has cowriter credit as well.

So, who is he in love with? That's easy; it's that scrumptious superstar-to-be Thandie Newton, who takes this film, and us, in her arms and whirls us around until we're dizzy with love ourselves. She is not the elegant, composed beauty that Hepburn was; she is just stunning, with enormous eyes, a sweet and sensuous voice that we cannot get enough of, and a physical grace that we only notice when she shows us how to do an unselfconscious pratfall.

Ah, but now we must deal with Newton's costar Mark Wahlberg. He's getting a little pudgy these days, his voice is still the same flat, affectless instrument we heard in "Boogie Nights," and physically he's a klutz. Who cast him? Newton could have steamy onscreen chemistry with any of a hundred actors; Wahlberg is not on that list.

What is the film about? Well, that's another problem. Demme is so intent on concealing his plot - actually no different from a whole genre of hidden-identity mysteries, where no one is quite what they seem, or say they are - that he keeps losing the thread in his editing. But once I let go of my search for logic, I must say I liked it a great deal. He flash-cuts memories, parallel scenes, fantasies, and flash-forwards (there's even a character named Lola). Newton is Regina Lambert, recently married to Swiss art dealer Charlie Lambert, but when she comes back to their apartment in Paris to say she is divorcing him she finds that Charlie is a) dead; and b) not who he said he was. And now there are people after her, who think she has a fortune that he stole from them. And none of them are who they say they are either. That's the story.

Demme has put in more homages to films, particularly French films and stars, than you'll find in twenty years of Sight and Sound or Film Comment, including: a live appearance by Charles Aznavour, singing to Newton (and there's even a clip from "Shoot the Piano Player"); cameos by Anna Karina, Agnès Varda and Magali Noël; and Demme has even named Newton's hotel the Langlois, after the greatly mourned Henri Langlois, founder of the Cinémathèque Française.

I'm sorry to add that ultimately, as the threads of plot ravel at the end, so do the power and wit of the film unravel. In trying to wrap things up neatly Demme loses us and our suspension of disbelief. It's not fatal, but it's pretty serious; Charlie, and "The Truth About Charlie," deserved a better end.