Charlotte Gray; Don't Say A Word; Bangkok Dangerous

Missing in action: one heroine, last seen in novel
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The Independent Culture

Another week, another film based on a Second World War novel. This time, the novel is Sebastian Faulks's Charlotte Gray (15). Cate Blanchett takes the title role, showing off her facility for accents as a Scots lass who goes undercover in Vichy France. Unbeknownst to her contact in the local resistance (Billy Crudup), she's not just carrying messages from the British government, she's searching for her boyfriend, an airman who was shot down in the area.

If you've seen Enigma or Captain Corelli's Mandolin, you'll know what to expect from Gillian Armstrong's adaptation: some classy acting, some Forties tailoring, some tourist brochure countryside and a sweeping score, just to underline how epic it all is. You'll also expect the film to be bleakly uninvolving – and rightly so. Charlotte Gray has all the usual snags that arise when a 500-page novel is packed into a two-hour movie. It has to dash from one set piece to another without time to ratchet up the tension or to flesh out the characters. (Writers, please note: that's what six-part TV serials are for.)

The other snag with Charlotte Gray is Charlotte Gray herself, a heroine who seems too passive and ineffectual to have a film named after her. The pivotal relationship isn't between her and anyone else, it's between Crudup and his crotchety father (Michael Gambon). It's Crudup who faces the film's gravest dilemma; it's Crudup who shoots collaborators and blows up Nazi supply trains. Cate Blanchett just tags along. Maybe this should have been the first novel adaptation to dispense with the title character altogether.

In Don't Say A Word (15), Michael Douglas is a brilliant, kindly psychiatrist with an exquisite Manhattan apartment, an exquisite young wife (Famke Janssen) and a toxically cute daughter, so it serves him right when said daughter is kidnapped by a wicked jewel thief (Sean Bean – always the baddie, never the hero). The thief needs to find out a mysterious six-figure number to recover some loot, and that number is locked in the damaged mind of a teenage mental patient (Brittany Murphy, less like an actual trauma victim than a model in an "asylum chic" fashion shoot). If Douglas wants to see his daughter again, he has to turn into Supershrink and coax out the number.

This, surely, is the cue for his wonderful life to disintegrate and for the smug doctor to learn how little his professional standing counts for in a life and death situation. But no, he rises to the occasion unimpeachably. He's a boringly resourceful, cunning hero up against a boringly evil, one-dimensional villain.

The hero of Bangkok Dangerous (18) doesn't say a word. He's a deaf-mute hitman, and in keeping with his condition, the movie is almost a silent film. The directors, twin brothers named Oxide and Danny Pang, prefer the language of visual effects. Not a scene goes by without a barrage of freeze frames, zooms, tints and animations – sometimes to reflect the hero's state of mind, sometimes just for the hell of it. Sometimes, though, the effects are there to paper over the story's cracks. But if the Pangs put a bit more work into their next script, Thailand could have its own Luc Besson/Beat Takeshi/Danny Boyle. Two of them, in fact.

n.barber@independent.co.uk

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