Shia LaBeouf stars in the title role in Charlie Countryman (opening today), a film that was originally titled, “The Unnecessary Death of Charlie Countryman” when it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival this past year. Apparently, an annoying narrator (voiced by John Hurt) was removed and other changes were made, but this new incarnation still feels quite unnecessary.
We meet a down and out Charlie at the beginning of the film, just as his mother (Melissa Leo) passes away. We know that Charlie is depressed and a bit out of it, because right after her death, she visits him. She inexplicably tells him that he needs to go to Bucharest (Romania) and we’re not sure why (although I do hear that they offer great tax incentives for filming there). Why not go? It’s exotic and murky and well…just don’t think about it too hard. Asking the question “Why?” will only lead to disappointment in this trippy crime drama.
On the plane over, Charlie meets an old Romanian man, who dies in his sleep after the two became fast friends. Again seeing an apparition, the man asks Charlie to deliver a gift to his daughter upon arriving to Bucharest. Charlie – tasked with another mission – intends to do so. He meets the young girl, Gabi (Evan Rachel Wood, sporting an almost comical Romanian accent) – a cello player in the orchestra – but then falls in love with her.
The only trouble is, Gabi is the main squeeze of a vicious crime boss, Nigel (Mads Mikkelsen). He gets tangled up in an ordeal that puts his life in danger as he tries to protect and nurture his new-found love.
Rumors circulated months ago that during the filming of Charlie Countryman, Shia LaBeouf actually took acid in order to relate to his character’s frequent drug episodes in the movie. Much of the film seems like an acid trip, or maybe one must be on acid in order to fully appreciate it. Surely, first time director Fredrik Bond has an artful eye and creates a highly-stylized, if emotionally empty, film experience. There just isn’t too much to invest in or get excited about.
An early scene between Charlie and Gabi had me thinking: Does this entire film exist inside the mind of Charlie? His ability to communicate with the recently deceased, the fact that we are never told the reasons for his journey to Bucharest and the idea that he can afford such an excursion without being told where he’s getting all this money. But in a scene with Gabi, she mentions to him that it is pretty amazing, really, that he’d meet a beautiful girl, in a vulnerable state, who plays the cello in an orchestra…it does sound like the things of fantasy. So is this movie Charlie’s fantasy? Whether it is or isn’t, no real purpose for the story can be ascertained.
LaBeouf is quite talented and keeps you invested, as do the pretty cool visuals of this Romanian underworld. But Charlie Countryman has little else to offer. If it was all a dream – or a trip – then what was the point? If it wasn’t, then it is all just too far-fetched and ludicrous.
Genre: Drama, Crime, Romance
Run Time: 1 hour, 43 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Evan Rachel Wood, Mads Mikkelsen, Til Schweiger, Rupert Grint, James Buckley, Vincent D’Onofrio, Melissa Leo, Aubrey Plaza
Written by Matt Drake (Project X)
Directed by Fredrik Bond (feature-film debut)
Opens locally on Friday, Nov 15, 2013 (check for show times).
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How to read Tom Santilli’s “Star Ratings:”
- 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
- 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
- 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
- 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
- 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time