An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


            “Head in the Clouds” is a strange movie.  Set in the ‘30s, it tries to do too much and ends up not knowing, it seems, whether it wants to be a comedy, a romance, or a war movie.  It certainly isn’t a comedy, in spite of the smiles generated by a first rate performance by Charlize Theron.  The first half of the film builds the characters, which is just fine, but the second half changes the rules until coherence and credibility finally evaporate. 

            In a promising opening, Gilda (Charlize Theron), rain soaked free spirit seeking shelter, bursts into the room of Guy (Stuart Townsend), astonished Oxford student.  Charming, selfish, and utterly self-possessed, Gilda springs from a rich American mother, an aristocratic French father, and a Yale education. 

            Charlize Theron is radiant as Gilda, the rich American.  Stuart Townsend is both sweet and strong as Guy, the shy idealist.  “I feel guilty being around all the wealth,” he complains with great sincerity, and she, with a wisdom that explains her style, replies, “It’s just a game.”  Unaffected by cultural mandates or society gossip, Gilda plays her version of that game with flamboyance and abandon. 

            The glamorous hedonist lives with her other lover, Mia (Penelope Cruz), and lures Mia and Guy into a high profile threesome on the London social scene.  The ‘30s were full of strong women who paid no heed whatsoever to what society expected of them, and Gilda is surely one of them.  Whenever the movie focuses on Gilda’s personality (thanks to Ms. Theron), the movie jumps to life.  When Mia and Guy go off to fight in Spain, Gilda continues to lead her life with glamorous superficiality in a world just beginning to go mad. 

            When the movie takes an abrupt turn, first into the Spanish Civil War, then into World War II, it throws too much at us – too many surprises, too little connective story tissue.  Not only do we have to wrap our minds around two wars, we have to accept a sudden spy story.  The intricacies of the undercover work aren’t developed, and the spy game rarely works when movie stars portray it. The baggage surrounding known faces is distracting.  Spies need to be played by unknowns. 

            Making movies about this period is fraught with problems because it is close enough in time to be familiar, distant enough to be history.  Part of the problem may be that we are looking backward from a more complicated time.  Identity shifts were more common before instant communication, and the intelligence game, after all, was very personal in the days before the technology revolution. 

Make your own call on this one.  The scriptwriter let his story get out of hand and simply wasn’t up to the transition between eras or the reality of war; but for most of us, Charlize Theron is reason enough to go to any movie, even a weak one


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