'Charlie Countryman' Review: Shia LaBeouf Film Tries Too Hard To Be Too Much
Charlie Countryman begins in a bath and ends with a filthy mess of a relationship that was born out of Charlie’s ability to communicate with the dead and survive a homicidal Romanian mobster. Starring Shia LaBeouf and Evan Rachel Wood, the Fredrik Bond-directed film tells the story of a hapless twentysomething whose mother has just passed away, and who goes on a journey of self-discovery where he’s swayed into action and vitality by love.
Asking the question of whether Charlie Countryman is a crime thriller, a love story or an experimental picture devoted to the idea of magic realism within an unforgiving reality is pointless. The movie is all of the above and more. The cross-genre aspect of the film might appeal to the sensibilities of some and completely turn off others. Is it a completely novel take on a love story? A reimagined crime narrative? A new window into the possibilities of the fantastic? Or, is it a pointless amalgamation of things that don’t quite gel?
In any case, LeBeouf gives his all into the role of Charlie. Charlie is, as one might expect based on the casting, an atypical hero. From the onset, he’s framed as a bit of a weakling, definitely directionless and, generally speaking, not all that appealing. In the beginning of the film’s first act he pays a visit to his ex-girlfriend (Aubrey Plaza) that’s plenty cringe worthy. The reasons why she likely left him for the guy currently in her bed are endless. In any case, Charlie is driven to Romania by the whisper of his mother’s ghost. He’s driven to meet the mysterious Gabi at the insistence of his fellow plane passenger’s ghost. And he’s driven for the rest of the movie by love. It sounds absurd – and it is – but LeBeouf’s ability to transmit unreserved vulnerability makes it plausible.
Less plausible, however, is the idea that Gabi returns Charlie’s affections. Would she really go from mob boss Nigel (Mads Mikkelson) to him? It’s possible, but the chemistry isn’t quite there. Wood does a commendable job with the accent, and wears the part of the infinitely magnetizing cellist well. And Mikkelson, as Nigel, proves once again that he plays a great villain, giving soul to the soulless. Harry Potter’s Rupert Grint also has a small part as one of Charlie’s hostel mates, along with James Buckley. Grint’s comedic timing is one of more enjoyable parts of the film – a diversion from the deaths, the over-arching fear of death and general violence.
Charlie Countryman was at its best when absent were the fantastical: Charlie chasing Gabi through the subway station, or the guys trying to talk their way out of getting a beating from Darko (Til Schweiger) at a Bucharest strip club. While Melissa Leo is a tremendous actress, squeezing her into the film as Charlie’s mother in the afterlife felt too contrived, not germane to the very real story, which incidentally was based off of screenwriter Matt Drake’s experience in Romania. And Gabi’s dad being a Cubs fan? It seemed just as absurd as him speaking to Charlie as he lies prostrate, dead as a doornail in his aisle seat. If first time filmmaker Bond had left the paranormal at the door, he’d have made a more nuanced and enchanted film.