Millennium Entertainment // 2013 // 103 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // January 21st, 2014
If you're gonna die, die for love.
It's often pretty easy to envy celebrities. They've got jobs they appear to love (playing pretend!), more money than they know what to do with, and they're above-average in the looks department as well. Who doesn't want at least some of that? Of course for every celebrity seemingly leading the good life, there are a handful publicly melting down. In late 2013 the crown went to Shia LeBeouf, who basically plagiarized a comic by Daniel Clowes, then "apologized" for it by plagiarizing the apologies of others, then had a very public breakdown on Twitter than culminated in his hiring of a skywriter to put an apology in the sky. Apparently, he's retired from "public life." Though I wouldn't want to trade places with LeBeouf at the moment, I'd want even less to trade places with those responsible for marketing the movies that were finished before his meltdown that didn't see release until after it. Charlie Countryman is one of those films. Though not the greatest film of 2013, it deserves a bit better than becoming a footnote in the ongoing insanity of Shia LeBeouf's career.
Charlie Countryman (Shia LeBeouf, Lawless) is in a rough state: his mother (Melissa Leo, Treme) is on life support, and his father (Vincent D'Onofrio, Escape Plan) makes the difficult decision to take her off. Though she dies, Charlie's mother still appears to him in a vision, telling him to go to Bucharest. He heeds her advice, and during the trip meets Gabi (Evan Rachel Wood, Across the Universe), a Romanian woman with whom he falls deeply in love. She draws Charlie deep into the underworld of Bucharest, where he manages to piss off Nigel (Mads Mikkelsen, Hannibal), a local heavy with designs on Gabi.
It's especially sad that Shia LeBeouf's public persona will probably hang over Charlie Countryman because he's nowhere near the most interesting thing about the film, even if he does play the title character. Nope, the rest of the cast are far more engaging. In the early scenes before Charlie's journey, Melissa Leo and Vincent D'Onofrio play a perfect pair of cinematic parents. Though their scenes are relatively brief, both give a very specific picture of the kind of life that Charlie is running from by heading to Bucharest. Once we're in Europe, the cast gets even better. I have no idea why Evan Rachel Wood (who is of English and Irish ancestry) got cast as the Romanian Gabi, but she's excellent. She makes the audience believe that it's possible to fall in love with a bearded and greasy haired Shia LeBeouf. Mads Mikkelsen does his usual excellent job playing the heavy, and he's joined by the equally menacing Til Schweiger. It's not terribly inspired casting, but both are sufficiently interesting to make their menace feel real. Add in appearances by Rupert Grint and you've got a cast that's quite impressive.
The film also benefits from the deft hand of first-time director Fredrik Bond. There's a kind of Danny Boyle meets Hostel vibe to the film. Though there's no "torture porn" in Charlie Countryman, the film is a fantasy of European travel like Hostel, and Bond combines this fantasy with the kind of mind-bending shenanigans we're used to seeing from Boyle. What Bond excels at, though, is creating a world we can believe in. I know that if I fly to Bucharest tomorrow I'm unlikely to have my seatmate die and lead me to his beautiful, gangster-connected daughter. Still, Bond makes this world, with its transatlantic crossings and dead-mother visions feel real.
Charlie Countryman (Blu-ray) also does the film justice. The 1.78:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer is pretty solid. The film appears to have been shot digitally, and detail is unsurprisingly strong throughout. Black levels are consistent and deep, though darker scenes occasionally look a tad flat. Color is more impressive, with Bond's wildly fluctuating color scheme beautifully represented. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is even more impressive. From the film's piano-led score to the dialogue, everything is clean, clear, and well-balanced. The various moments of tension and action provide plenty of opportunities for the surrounds to come into play.
Extras start with a 22-minute behind-the-scenes featurette. We get a lot of clips along with interviews featuring cast/crew. It's a bit fluffy, but does an okay job giving viewers an idea of the making of the film. We also get 21 minutes of deleted scenes, including alternate opening/closing scenes and a handful of character moments. The film's trailer is also included. A commentary or more substantive interview would have been nice, but what's here isn't bad.
Shia LeBeouf is all right in the film, I guess, but it feels like he's slumming. Part of the problem is the script, which makes him a reactive instead of an active character. However, some of it rests on LeBeouf's shoulders as well. Though he can be charming enough in his big-budget fare, Charlie Countryman seems like he's trying too hard to be "indie" or "gritty." It's not a terrible performance, but those looking to enjoy a Shia LeBeouf film might be disappointed.
Though I can't fault Bond for his direction, I can wish there was a better script underlying his visual presentation. Though there's an interesting setup for a film here -- man goes on vision quest, finds love in dangerous Europe -- Charlie's actual journey isn't that compelling once he falls for Gabi. Though I can see how the film is trying to parody the fantasy of European exploration (which might explain the odd casting choices), by the film's inevitable end, I think most audiences will be left unsatisfied by the story. It's especially unsatisfying if you know the film's original title, which I hesitate to give away here.
Charlie Countryman is a surreal little take on the American-abroad thriller. Though Shia LeBeouf will likely overshadow the rest of the film, it's an interesting flick that showcases a fine cast. While not the most satisfying or original thriller, Charlie Countryman will appeal to those looking for something that's a little off the beaten track.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Millennium Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 2013
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
* Official Site
* Facebook Page