Plot: What’s it about?
Charlotte Gray (Cate Blanchett) is a Scottish woman living in London, though her studies have made her an expert in most things French. A chance encounter with Peter Gregory (Rupert Penry-Jones), an RAF fighter pilot, leads her to falling in love with the man, but things don’t work out as well as both would like. Soon, Peter is shot down over France and not too long after that, Charlotte is recruited to take part in a mission on French soil. Of course, her desire to serve the side of good in the war drives her, as does her passion for France, but her personal wishes to find her former lover perhaps weigh the most on her decision. She is given an undercover name and former life to play off, as she gathers various information, observes her surroundings, and even takes part in some more important assignments. The leader of the resistance team is Julien (Billy Crudup), whose father is hosting Charlotte while she does her assigned tasks. Charlotte soon learns that Peter has been confirmed dead and this leaves her broken in more ways than one. Can she continue to fight back and try to preserve the country she loves so much, or will this emotional loss take too much from her and withdraw her from the assignment?
Although Charlotte Gray is not a great movie, it comes close and with a superb cast of players, it still more than warrants some attention. The storyline is rich and has a lot of potential, which director Gillian Armstrong is able to make good use of, at least for the first three quarters of the picture or so. After that, the movie tends to unravel and loses its steam quite a bit, though it still never becomes overly bad. I suppose that is kind of worse that an overall bad movie, since it makes it harder to accept when a film has such definite potential, but then fails to make good on all those opportunities. Even so, this one has plenty of good moments and with a number of excellent performances, it always remains watchable. Cate Blanchett gives an awesome effort, but supporting players like Billy Crudup, Michael Gambon, and Rupert Penry-Jones add depth and solid turns also, which flesh out the cast of characters. So while it does taper off toward the close, this is still a good movie and deserves a recommendation, especially since Warner has issued a decent enough disc, so check it out.
Even when this film drags or begins to become bland, it remains interesting thanks to the performances, especially the one given by Cate Blanchett. I’ve been a fan of hers for some time, as she seems to be able to get inside the heads of all of her characters, whether she has a small role or the leading one. In this case, she has the main character and she never misses a beat, bringing Charlotte to life with skill, emotion, and courage, which is impressive indeed, since the material often dips in terms of development. That is what top level actors do though, as she improves the material and makes most of her scenes work, though toward the film’s close, even she is unable to overcome the flaws in the material. Other films with Blanchett include Bandits, Elizabeth, The Shipping News, The Gift, and Pushing Tin. The cast also includes Billy Crudup (Almost Famous, Waking the Dead), Michael Gambon (Gosford Park, Plunkett & Macleane), and Rupert Penry-Jones (Still Crazy, Virtual Sexuality).
Video: How does it look?
Charlotte Gray is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. As usual on their new releases, Warner serves up a top drawer treatment that shows minimal defects, so fans should be nothing less than delighted here. The soft appearance is intentional, as the film has a more natural visual style, as opposed to razor sharp and crisp. I noticed this in the theaters and now on the DVD, so while it may seem like an error, rest easy, as this is how the filmmakers intended the visuals to come across. The colors are warm, the flesh tones look consistent, and black levels are well balanced, a terrific overall visual presentation.
Audio: How does it sound?
As expected, the included Dolby Digital 5.1 is not too powerful, but the material sounds terrific and the track never slips in the least. I was pleased that the war scenes were so strong, as the surround and subwoofer come to life, with some nice power and depth. Of course, these scenes aren’t too frequent, but even so, the experience is enhanced by the dynamic audio present when they’re on screen. Most of the other scenes are more reserved, dialogue driven material, but they sound good also, a better overall mix than expected. This disc also includes subtitles in English, Spanish, and French.
Supplements: What are the extras?
An audio commentary with director Gillian Armstrong is the main draw here, though it proves to be a middling session at best. Her comments remain brisk and never too revealing, though she does let out a lot of the production design details, which spiced up the track more than a little, of course. This disc also includes some talent files, two brief behind the scenes featurettes, and the film’s theatrical trailer.