Charlie Countryman Review
Charlie Countryman is a ludicrously paced movie that is a Eurotrip coming of age, gangland drama and romantic noir.
Originally titled The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman, the now informally named Charlie Countryman proves that there is not really anything necessary about it. Yet, for all of Charlie’s rough-hewn idiosyncrasies, I still find myself glad to have met the curious fellow. As a movie more famous for its behind-the-scenes shuffle than its Sundance debut—actor Shia LaBeouf originally dropped out of the project due to scheduling conflicts before returning, supposedly with a bit of acid for a method take on the film’s drug-addled sequence—Charlie Countryman marks Swedish filmmaker Fredrik Bond’s first movie, and it is a trippy dose of wild influences scattered across the Romanian countryside. Feeling like a callback to the 1990s efforts of Tony Scott or a young Danny Boyle, Charlie is so deliriously spastic in his joy for life that both the character and film are sometimes hard to understand. But the kaleidoscopic fury that they find in Bucharest is so intoxicating that one can appreciate the exuberant approach. Opening in Chicago, Charlie (LaBeouf) is a boy trying to act like a man when his mother (Melissa Leo) passes away. It is so haunting for this lackluster observer that he is able to bear witness to something even more wholly unearthly. Leo is given a few moments to shine, because even death cannot hold her down from stealing some of Charlie’s scenes when she returns as a ghostly imprint of maternal kindness to guide and nurture Charlie. One could even say that she is his guardian angel if it were not for the fact that she suggested that Charlie gets away from her demise by traveling to Bucharest. Why Bucharest? Well, besides the absurdly friendly Romanian tax laws and rates of exchange for international film productions, it is quite “specific.” Plus, it is not the overused Budapest. So within a hop and jump, Charlie finds himself on a plane to Eastern Europe where he fortuitously sits next to a kindly Romanian man on the flight. This man then promptly dies leaving Charlie, again, to be the only one to commune with a fellow traveler from beyond the grave. At this point, it might appear as if Charlie’s mere presence is facilitating doom and gloom for all he meets, not unlike a Grim Reaper version of The Sixth Sense (which the script does call out), however it ultimately appears to be more a case of manifest destiny. Sure, that wonderful fate is made whole in ever so many corpses, but without them, Charlie would have never met Gabi (Evan Rachel Wood), a cello player with a dark past who is also the daughter of the recently airborne deceased. Charlie attempts to bond with Gabi over their shared losses, but he finds something much more complicated in this pseudo-femme fatale when she seduces him into the eternal sounds of opera and the probably fatal whispers of the Bucharest underworld. This is represented in the complete reversal of Charlie’s painfully tardy adolescence: Gabi’s husband Nigel. Nigel is played by Mads Mikkelsen, one of the greatest living actors in European cinema, with an overbearing sense of alpha male dominance so intense that it threatens not only to demolish LaBeouf’s timid Charlie, but the entire picture in its wake. So, why is Gabi interested in Charlie again and why is she putting him in Nigel’s path? Set in the seedy shadow land of youth-oriented hostels and Romanian gangsters, Charlie Countryman is a coming-of-age film, a crime drama, a romantic noir and a surrealistic parody of the “Eurotrip” cliché all wrapped into one project bursting at the seams. All these elements do not necessarily coalesce into something that is either coherent or as solidly memorable in its total sum as it is in the smaller, disparate moments. However, when those elements do work, this first-time feature showcases a lot of promise in visual panache with a reverence for a style that was thought to have died with the ‘90s scene. It also offers one of the better cast indies to come out of the Sundance circuit this year. In a role that LaBeouf apparently fought years to obtain, Charlie Countryman offers the actor all the neurotic ticks and awkward flourishes that he spent a decade carving out in big budget fare. But this time, he gets to invest them in a character who is not intentionally seeking audience sympathy or support. Instead, they serve to paint the portrait of a very, very sensitive soul who gets in way over his head, thereby creating an underdog narrative by which the audience is supposed to cheer for him. While the plot machinations are so fuzzy in the finished film that I am unsure if I ever really rooted for Charlie, there is no denying that LaBeouf has never been better fit for a role and plays perfectly off his opposites. The two most notable are Mikkelsen—who is of course fantastic as the film’s heavy in a part that he so completely owns that we would wish to spend more time with the smiling brute—and, perhaps more intriguingly, Wood’s Gabi. As the film’s mystery girl, Wood imbues her character with an almost duplicitous touch of Romanian Barbara Stanwyck. While it becomes evident she has genuine feelings for Charlie and wishes him the best, her motives and allegiances are never fully defined until the movie’s closing moments, allotting further evidence that Wood, who never approaches any two roles the same way, is a vastly underused talent. The rest of the supporting cast is also fun with Rupert Grint turning in a small performance that is entirely built around smashing down his Harry Potter image. As a fellow hostel resident named Carl, Grint plays a British tourist hellbent on breaking into the German porn industry (his nickname will be “Berlin Pecker”) but otherwise is content at doing ecstasy with Charlie and attending strip clubs when he takes too much Viagra. Strangely, this still feels like a very practical alternative for Ron Weasley if he had never developed magical wizarding powers. The elements are all fun, and the film features a deliciously baroque atmosphere as it careens from a ghostly fairy tale to a guns-and-girls noir that spreads far from America’s shores. But The Third Man this ain’t. Not least of all because it lacks a clarity of focus. Charlie Countryman does many things well, especially casting, but the overall film swings wildly between tones and twists through the quick-knit pacing that can become as exhausting as figuring out why exactly characters are doing what they do. Still, the film’s ludicrous charm will likely prove infectious for a certain niche audience on the home market. I can foresee this discovering a cult following on home video, much like many of the ‘90s films it emulates. If that happens, Charlie will be all the happier that they went to Bucharest after all. Den of Geek Rating: 2.5 out of 5 Stars Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for all news updates related to the world of geek. And Google+, if that’s your thing.