Judge Diane Wild pokes her head into these clouds and doesn't find much of substance.
Three lives. One destiny.
Two hours. One life. Countless better options.
Facts of the Case
In the years leading up to the Second World War, Gilda (Charlize Theron, Sweet November) is a socialite and a dilettante who meets earnest and politically aware Guy (Theron's real-life love Stuart Townsend, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) at college, where they begin an on-again, off-again relationship. Their paths run parallel longest when they share an apartment in Paris with Mia (Penelope Cruz, Belle Epoque), a Spaniard who shares both Guy's desire to fight on the side of the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War and his passion for the lovely Gilda.
Gilda, however, is opposed to any sacrifice for a cause that doesn't directly affect her own life, so when her friends force her to sacrifice their presence by leaving for Spain, she severs all ties. When the Spanish Civil War has faded into World War II , Guy returns to occupied Paris as a spy and finds Gilda shacking up with a Nazi officer. He must either rescue her from herself, or let her face the impending liberation as a traitor.
Head in the Clouds opens with archival black and white footage, fading into the action of the movie. It begins with Gilda as a child visiting a fortune teller, who ominously informs her "I see your 34th year" after refusing to read her future. It's a clumsy, unnecessary portent of doom, both for Gilda's life and for the next two hours of watching a clumsy and unnecessary movie.
Next, we meet the adult Gilda, all sparkly and gay as she hides in Guy's dorm room. Unfortunately, Theron does not pull off sparkly and gay well. Her enunciation is overly deliberate, making it obvious she doesn't own the words she's speaking, and she doesn't have the range to be the mercurial charmer she needs to be. She's a fine actress given the right role. This is not the right role.
Head in the Clouds was one of Theron's first films after her Oscar-winning performance in Monster, and it's not hard to see what attracted her to it. She gets to be pretty, and more than that, she gets to be pretty in pretty clothes with pretty people surrounding her. After frumping up for her a portrayal of a serial killer, it's hard to begrudge her all the glamorous costume changes and the opportunity to inhabit a character who wears full makeup in bed.
Which isn't to say that this is a completely shallow movie, though it's not nearly as deep as it wants to be, either. It touches on predetermination and political responsibility without really delving into anything, as if raising an issue is the same as exploring it.
Guy, who is told he's "always the quiet one in the center of the storm," barely registers onscreen, and much of the fault lies with the likable but bland Townsend. But he has help. As with most of the characterizations, Guy's political beliefs and motivations are presented as a given, rather than revealed in any convincing way. A brief story about his father is supposed to justify his devotion to the anti-fascist cause in Spain, just like an out-of-nowhere story about Mia's family's fate at the hands of the fascists explains hers.
The central relationship in the film is between Gilda and Guy, but her self-absorption not only makes her an unappealing character: Guy is tainted by association. It's hard to feel sympathy for the rich bitch, especially in times of war, and how Gilda treats other characters throughout the film is who she is to the audience—no last-minute revelations can redeem her.
The only answer to the question "what does Guy see in her" seems to be the obvious: she's beautiful. Which makes him a schmuck. They have opposing views on issues that are supposedly deeply important to him, and she treats him and everyone else badly. The only thing preventing them from being together from the beginning is simple—she doesn't want to. Once their relationship is established in the first few minutes, she teasing and coy, he smitten, there is minimal progression. They eventually have lots of sex, but little passion is generated, and that's not a slight against Theron and Townsend as much as one against the script, which gives their characters no convincing connection. More effective is the tension between Gilda and Mia, because it's mostly unspoken.
Head in the Clouds plays like a crude male fantasy dressed up in party clothes. The magnificent hero wins the affections of the unattainable vixen, finds himself in a ménage a trois with said vixen and her equally fetching and exotic friend, fights in a noble war, and becomes a superspy. Problem is, none of it rings true. Add the stylishly sanitized settings and costume design, and the movie's authenticity takes a serious blow.
This is a good-looking film, enhanced by a good-looking 2.35:1 anamorphic picture. The gorgeous colors, crisp picture, and fine detail could be a metaphor for the point that this movie is all about appearances over substance, however, since the transfer is far better than the movie deserves. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix comes alive during war sequences, but is mostly front centered and uses ambient sounds sparingly.
The only extra is a nine-minute featurette, in the best tradition of PR puffery. There are also previews that play automatically, but I am one of the odd few who miss that about the days of VHS, don't want to skip them, and hate to miss the coming attractions in theaters. Sure, they're commercials, but they're commercials for movies.
Head in the Clouds should have a little something for everyone. It's a sweeping drama encompassing romance, war, and intrigue. But that's its downfall—it covers too much ground without doing any of it particularly well, or with interesting enough characters. There's little to recommend it as worthy of your DVD dollars or your time.
Guilty of mediocrity.
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Scales of Justice
• Making-of featurette
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