Editor’s Notes: Charlie Countryman opens in limited release tomorrow, November 15th.
The movie theater is a place to escape. The bright screen is our way out of the dark cavern of the theater: our portal to another land. It offers us larger than life characters, in both size and personality, and surrounds us with events that could only derive from our imaginations. Nevertheless, when placed on a steady diet of cinema, you become aware of trends and stories of disappointing familiarity. This leads to the divide between cinephile and casual moviegoer: a set of expectations. A film of recycled tropes is a misleading vacation for the cinephile, a trip to a familiar place masquerading as something new. Charlie Countryman is one of those trips.
There is a whole lot going on in Charlie Countryman. Dying parents, fish out of water tale, romance, drug-fueled hallucinations, and dangerous mobsters are slammed together into an average-sized canister.
Following the death of his mother, Charlie (Shia LaBeouf) is searching for answers. His mother comes to him in a vision and urges him to go abroad, to Bucharest. Events that transpire during Charlie’s fight find him forging an unlikely bond with Gabi (Evan Rachel Wood), a Romanian cellist. The more time that Charlie spends with Gabi, the farther he falls into the chasm of love. Unfortunately, with rapid romance not every question gets answer, and Gabi’s dark past comes up to consume Charlie.
There is a whole lot going on in Charlie Countryman. Dying parents, fish out of water tale, romance, drug-fueled hallucinations, and dangerous mobsters are slammed together into an average-sized canister. Any one of this topics could, and have, stood alone in past films, and hell, some films have managed to knock out a few of them. Nevertheless, Charlie Countryman is trying to be all of them, and that just may be a bit much. None of the aspects has nearly enough time or care to develop into anything truly notable. As soon as the film begins to get comfortable in itself, it takes a hard shift into a vastly different territory. The transitions are nearly non-existent, jolting the audience with little care for any emotional connection. It is jarring and makes the experience of viewing the film uncomfortable.
LaBeouf’s Charlie strides across the screen on a cloud of superiority. Even at his most endearing, he is the type of character that you never truly enjoy.
In between the film’s rickety turns, the film is populated with adequate to pretty good filler. Shia LaBeouf and Evan Rachel Wood have legitimate chemistry, although Wood is more exciting to watch. LaBeouf’s Charlie strides across the screen on a cloud of superiority. Even at his most endearing, he is the type of character that you never truly enjoy. Disconnected from life and apparently happy with it, they are never fully open to us, and we taste the distrust. Now that I think of it, Charlie is just one unlikable forkful in a whole pie of the same. The most palatable characters have the smallest screen times, leaving us with a troupe of selfish people capable of varying degrees of villainy. The film relies on the your decision to side with Charlie, to allow him to be your protagonist, but I found myself craving for more Mads Mikkelsen menace or the goofy embrace of James Buckley. These character deficiencies contribute to general atmosphere of apathy. When the film reaches a point when it really wants you to care, it’s hard to find the strength or desire.
Then there are those moments of excitement, those bright spots that give you hope for a better film. The chemistry between LaBeouf and Wood makes the poorly written romantic comedy jags nearly enjoyable to consume. The film’s visual aesthetic is another case altogether. Director Fredrik Bond carries the film with the strength of a1998 music video maestro. The hallucinogenic detours are filled with pretty lights and nudity, floating camera movements and wide-eyed wonder. The action scenes inevitably throw themselves onto the alter of slow motion. Anytime that Bond wants you to know that a moment is both exciting and important, he slows everything down and cranks up the soundtrack. It works the first time but eventually comes across like a knock-off Moby video.
Charlie Countryman is a film for the stoner with a trust fund. Charlie is a product of his time, a man that never graduated from adolescence and lacks a guiding light. However, as soon as the film begins to feel like another twenty-something trying to figure out what it all means, he latches onto a love interest. While it trades in the typical meet-cute for a kind of meet-awful, the concept remains much the same. The film’s central relationship survives on the chemistry of its two leads, although Wood always feels a bit more interesting. This may be a consequence of the film’s very design, seemingly offering Charlie the chance to have his name be title in exchange for not offering the character any depth. These character issues bleed into the film’s very presentation. With unclear transitions and a unsure aesthetic that typically feels more catered to an alt-rock music video, the film can be difficult to swallow. As the film progresses the viewer ends up assuming the role of Charlie, pummeled by outside forces that we have absolutely no control over. Unfortunately for us, we do not possess the love that so blindly propels Charlie forward, and when we reach the end, we just can’t find a reason to care. Charlie Countryman looks and feels like an extended music video. The images are fine and the people are attractive but it is far too busy trying to say something to put forth a cohesive and thematically complete story with fully developed characters.
[notification type=”star”]52/100 ~ MEDIOCRE. Charlie Countryman looks and feels like an extended music video. The images are fine and the people are attractive but it is far too busy trying to say something to put forth a cohesive and thematically complete story with fully developed characters.[/notification]