Head In The Clouds Movie Review
A handsome misfire of romanticized misfortune and decadence, war and idealism, tragedy and melodrama, "Head in the Clouds" aspires to be a sweetly risqué twist on the spirit of "Casablanca." But miscast leads and ersatz emotions leave the film's soundstagey period ambiance as its most comparable asset.
Underwhelming, accent-wavering Stuart Townsend ("Queen of the Damned") stars as Guy, an aspiring young writer and political idealist who comes under the spell of Gilda (Charlize Theron), a magnetically reckless woman who lives for the moment and for pleasure, believing she's doomed to die at 34 (as per an opening-scene palm reading). Passionate but uncommitted lovers at Cambridge in the early 1930s, they meet again in Paris just before the German occupation, where their disparate values in sex and life lead their renewed affair into tumultuous territory.
Townsend and Theron (a couple in real life) are wrong for their parts, both of which call for actors who can wear their intellects on their sleeves for confrontations that are at once lusty, emotionally raw and political in nature. More appropriately cast is Penelope Cruz as Mia, another of Gilda's lovers and a sexy Spanish dancer who became crippled, then turned to nursing in the hopes of returning to her country to serve in its republican revolution.
Mia and Guy bond over their world-weary consciences, eventually abandoning the enraged Gilda to obey their principles and fight the European continent's encroaching totalitarianism on various fronts.
The changes this perceived betrayal inspires in Gilda are the stuff of great wartime drama, as her innate ability to wrap men around her finger becomes ironically pivotal to the growth of her soul. But writer-director John Duigan never gets more than skin deep in his characters' emotions, conflicts and humanity. He seems afraid to ask his actors to do more than wear their characters like costumes, and instead focuses on staging sexy set pieces like a tandem milk bath in which breathtaking Theron wears nothing but her lover's fedora and tie.
"Head in the Clouds" is thick with potential that might have been realized with better dialogue (here it's expository and too clever for these characters), a more appropriate cast (someone with more talent than Townsend, and someone more enigmatic than Theron), or perhaps just a better director of sex and socio-political consequence (I would love to have seen Bernardo Bertolucci take a whack at it). But the version Duigan has concocted is a film of sultry paper dolls acting under the influence of affected wars.