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September 2004

By Julian Roman

Silver City

Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Director: John Duigan
Producers: Michael Cowan, Bertil Ohlsson, Jonathan Olsberg, Jason Piette
Screenwriter: John Duigan
Cast: Charlize Theron, Penelope Cruz, Stuart Townsend, & Thomas Kretschmann




Head in the Clouds is an epic World War Two romance that isn't epic or romantic. It strives to be great, but falls far short of its lofty goals. The main problem is the chemistry between the lead actors. It doesn't exist. The love story is not convincingly portrayed and that theme is the arc of the film. If you don't buy that, then everything else becomes trivial. Also, the war aspect of the story is sadly lacking. The sets and backdrops look like cardboard cutouts. Chalk that up to budgetary restraints, but the filmmakers needed to do a better job with the exteriors. It's kind of sad that the movie fails because it has the elements of a good film. A little more money and change in cast would have worked wonders.

The story begins at Cambridge University in 1930's London. Guy (Stuart Townsend) is a poor freshman with political ideals and a quiet demeanor. One night he takes into his room the scandalous Gilda (Charlize Theron). She's a wealthy heiress known for her wild ways and fearlessness. Gilda hides in his room to avoid the school curfew, but is instantly attracted to the solemn younger man. This begins a decade long affair that spans the turmoil of World War Two. Guy and Gilda have fleeting romances through the years, but end up settling for a time in Paris. There, Gilda brings in Mia (Penelope Cruz) to their relationship. She's a Spanish burlesque girl that escaped the ravages of the Spanish Civil War. The three live a glorious life with their little ménage, but the clouds of war loom ominously over them. They must choose to follow their hearts or fight against the conquering fascists.

The failure of the on screen romance is quite stunning. Stuart Townsend and Charlize Theron are a real life couple, but have no chemistry whatsoever in the film. They look like they're going through the motions of the script. I think that Charlize Theron, who just came off winning the Oscar for Best Actress, doesn't give up enough of her character to pull off the love story. Her performance is too strong. Gilda is supposed to have a softer side. Guy is infatuated with Gilda throughout the film and Stuart Townsend ably portrays that. You just don't get the same reaction from Charlize and it makes the romance look rigid when it should be passionate. Couples know each other and there needed to be an air of discovery between the actors. Charlize and Stuart are a long-time couple and this detracted from their interaction on screen. This might be heresy to say, but the director, John Duigan, originally wanted Natalie Portman to play Gilda. She would have done better with Stuart Townsend. Gilda is supposed to be older, but that part of the script could have been changed to suit their relationship.

Mia, Penelope Cruz's character, needed to have more of an impact on the story. She is emotionally important to the lead characters, but is almost an afterthought in the film's conclusion. Guy and Gilda come to love her as much as they love each other. They are a threesome. She ends up being used as a plot device to forward the story. It's a shame, an opportunity for depth and character exploration completely wasted.

Head in the Clouds is by no means a bad movie. It's an average film when it could have been a great film. It just needed a little more to push it over the top. It's a good idea for a remake. Somewhere down the line, someone else should take a crack at this story. It would really be something with the flaws corrected.