Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Charlie Countryman

For F** Magazine


Director: Fredrik Bond
Cast:  Shia LaBeouf, Evan Rachel Wood, Mads Mikkelsen, Rupert Grint, James Buckley, Ion Caramitu, Til Schweiger, Vincent D’Onofrio, Melissa Leo
Genre: Action, Thriller
Run Time: 108 mins
Opens: 6 March 2014
Rating: M18 (Sexual Scenes)

Ah, Shia “I AM NOT FAMOUS ANYMORE” LaBeouf. The former Even Stevens star is best known to most movie-goers as the insufferable protagonist of Michael Bay’s Transformers trilogy and has made a name for himself as the embodiment of pretentious Hollywood unlikeability. Between the plagiarism of cartoonist Daniel Clowes (plus the apology via skywriting), lashing out at Jim Carrey for taking a playful jab at him at the Golden Globes and the too-enthusiastic manner in which he discusses going full-frontal, he’s not exactly “the nicest guy in Hollywood”. The arthouse-tinged romantic action comedy-drama Charlie Countryman appears to be part of his endeavour to carve out a career as a “serious actor”.

Chicagoan Charlie Countryman (LaBeouf) is in the midst of a quarter-life crisis and takes the advice of his dying mother Kate (Leo) to travel to Bucharest to get away from it all. On the flight there, he chats with the guy in the seat next to him, Romanian Victor Ibanescu (Caramitu) and upon arriving at the airport, meets Victor’s daughter Gabi (Wood). He is immediately taken with the mesmerizing cellist and sets about romancing her, only to discover Gabi’s dangerous ex Nigel (Mikkelsen) standing in the way. Charlie befriends (and shares drugs with) his roommates at the hostel, Luc (Buckley) and Karl (Grint), who eventually get in trouble with Darko (Schweiger), a thug in cahoots with Nigel. Charlie finds himself in an exotic foreign land, out of his depth and caught between love and death.

Charlie Countryman is the feature film debut of Fredrik Bond, director of television commercials and Moby music videos (Moby provides several songs for the film’s soundtrack). The script is written by Matt Drake, who also penned the detestable Project X. It may seem like an odd comparison to draw, but it reminded this reviewer of The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty – albeit a flailing, violent, drug-addled The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty. Both films feature protagonists travelling to faraway lands to find themselves, embarking on the “adventure of a lifetime”, meeting colourful characters on their travels and frequently daydreaming/hallucinating. Both films, while visually captivating in their different ways, are also aimless and self-indulgent, Charlie Countryman actually coming off as the worse of the two.

Charlie Countryman is at its core a more conventional film than it fancies itself to be, attempting to put a spin on the “an everyman aboard” genre by flinging disparate ingredients into the pot. Cinematographer Roman Vasyanov gives the entire film a hazy, dreamlike feel, but the end result is inscrutable rather than seductive and fascinating. Charlie Countryman himself is also a difficult protagonist to empathise with, a bland victim of circumstance dragged through the Romanian capital by the coincidence-heavy plot. LaBeouf seems to be playing himself, but you can’t say he phoned it in seeing as LaBeouf actually took LSD to film the drug sequence, a move that’s either dedicated method acting or yet another cry for attention from an unlikeable actor. It’s also more than a little dumb considering it’s not even the right drug (the film features ecstasy).

There’s an interesting supporting cast here, with Mikkelsen getting some amusing lines as a psychotic criminal of some kind and Buckley and Grint playing the archetypical “those two guys”. Wood, affecting an iffy Romanian accent, is certainly a more interesting female lead than LaBeouf is a male lead. Til Schweiger is, just as he is in every other Hollywood film he does, “the henchman”.

If you’re not a Shia LaBeouf fan (and let’s face it, who still is?), Charlie Countryman won’t make a convert out of you. But the film should be judged separately from its lead actor’s public blunders and even then, there’s very little to recommend. Sure, it’s frequently pretty to look at and the soundtrack with contributions from the likes of Christophe Beck, DeadMono, M83 and the afore-mentioned Moby is hypnotic. But ultimately, Charlie Countryman annoys rather than entrances, its unpalatable potpourri of risky romance, buddy comedy and magical realist travelogue hard to get into.

Summary: The film’s earlier title was The Necessary Death Of Charlie Countryman and while it’s stylish to a degree, this is very far from necessary viewing – whether you’re a friend, a Roman or a countryman.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong


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