It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Consider now Cate Blanchett, a wondrous actress. Born in Melbourne in 1969, honored for her stage work in Australia, a survivor of American TV like "Police Rescue," she made her first film in 1997 ("Paradise Road," about female prisoners of war in the Pacific) and then arrived immediately at stardom in the title role of "Elizabeth" (1998), winning an Oscar nomination. In the four years since then she has played in an astonishing range of roles: as a calculating Londoner in "An Ideal Husband," as a strong-willed 19th century gambler from the Outback in the wonderful "Oscar and Lucinda," as an Italian-American housewife from New Jersey in "Pushing Tin," as a rich society girl in "The Talented Mr. Ripley," as a gold-digging Parisian showgirl in "The Man Who Cried," as an Appalachian redneck with psychic powers in "The Gift," as the woman who convinces both Billy Bob Thornton and Bruce Willis they love her in "Bandits," as Galadriel in "Lord of the Rings," as a lanky-haired Poughkeepsie slattern in "The Shipping News," and now as a British woman who parachutes into France and fights with the Resistance in "Charlotte Gray." Oh, and also in 2001, she had a baby.
Name me an actress who has played a greater variety of roles in four years, and I'll show you Meryl Streep. Were you counting Blanchett's accents? British, Elizabethan English, Edwardian English, Scots, Australian, French, American Southern, Midwestern, New England, New Joisey. And she has the kind of perfect profile they used to use in the "Can You Draw This Girl?" ads. She can bring as much class to a character as Katharine Hepburn, and has a better line in sluts.
While I was watching "Charlotte Gray," I spent a lot of time thinking about Blanchett's virtues, because she, Billy Crudup and Michael Gambon were performing life support on a hopeless screenplay. This is a movie that looks great, is well-acted, and tells a story that you can't believe for a moment. I have no doubt that brave British women parachuted into France to join the Resistance; indeed, I have seen a much better movie about just such a woman--"Plenty" (1985), starring, wouldn't you know, Meryl Streep. It's just that I don't think such women were motivated primarily by romance. After "Pearl Harbor," here is another movie where World War II is the backdrop for a love triangle.
Blanchett plays the title character, a Scottish woman in London who speaks perfect French and meets a young airman named Peter (Rupert Penry-Jones) at a publisher's party. They fall instantly in love, they have a one-night stand, he's shot down over France, and (she hears and believes) finds shelter with the Resistance. Charlotte allows herself to be recruited into British Special Operations, goes through training, and is dropped into France--near where Peter is thought to be. She is going to--what? Rescue him? Comfort him in her arms? Get him back to Britain? The movie doesn't spell this out very well.