Next time, check if the chick you fall in love with has any connections to the mob whatsoever.
After his mother (Melissa Leo) dies, aimless young-adult Charlie Countryman (Shia LaBeouf) gets a message from her ghost that she wants him to travel to Bucharest, Romania. Seeing as how he doesn’t have much to do with his everyday life in the states, Charlie complies and gets on a plane, where he meets a spirited old Romanian named Victor (Ion Caramitru). The two hit off, but not before long, Victor ends up dying on the plane. But just as soon as the plane lands, Victor’s ghost tells Charlie to give his daughter Gabi (Evan Rachel Wood) a gift he had planned on giving her in the first place. Charlie, once again, complies in doing so and realizes that not only is Gabi a sad, young and tortured soul, much like his own, but he’s damn well he’s certain he’s in love. However, as in love as Charlie may be with Gabi, he soon realizes that it almost can never come true as she’s also involved with a psychopathic mobster by the name of Nigel (Mads Mikkelsen). No matter what though, Charlie won’t let anything get in the way of his true love, even if that does mean a lot of getting his beaten to death and running.
Charlie Countryman is such an easy target to pick on. So much so, that I just knew I had to cut it some slack. Seeing as this is the type of flick that loves it style, rather than its actual story, that makes it incredibly easy to nit-pick at and throw out certain words like “pretentious”, “artsy”, or even “dumb” at it. However, I feel like if you know that this movie is going to be all about the look and feel, rather than what it’s telling us, then you just have to sort of roll with the ball. Is that so hard to do in the first place? Is it?
I don’t know. But what I do know is that this is one hell of a stylish movie, albeit, a very random one. May not be hard to imagine this after seeing the movie itself, director Fredrik Bond comes from a long line of commercials and yes, it does very much show. First of all, the actual filming in Bucharest really makes it feel like its own character that just sits in the background, watches as these characters do live their lives, make mistakes, make good choices, have fun and just overall, have a good time whenever they can. Bond’s gritty and raw look inside this area of Romania really brings you deep inside a place you’d never thought you get a good look at, ever, but somehow, you do and you end up falling in love with it.
Maybe that was just me, and if that’s the case, then whatever, I’m fine with that. Because while I do realize that Bond definitely doesn’t seem to really infuse much heart into this story, it’s about what’s all happening around it that matters. Of course, Bond does juggle more than he can actually handle (the movie itself is a fusion between rom-com, drama, action, thriller, and sometimes even neo-noir), but the ambitions, to me, felt deserved as it showed that he was able to fall back-on some very smart stylistic choices that surprised me and thrilled the hell out of me as I was watching.
For instance, there’s a scene that occurs practically out of nowhere that revolves around Charlie running away from a gang of thugs, all throughout the dirty streets and terminals of Bucharest. The camera continues to race all along as we watch Charlie jump, dive and move all around these streets, all in effective slo-mo, while in the background, some rave vibes are playing, just adding more of a fun feel to the whole scene. Hard to explain the scene without giving it all away, but it was definitely the high-light for me, as it easily brought me back into the story once I felt like it lost me, and it also showed that Bond himself had some true motivations behind-the-screen, even if they didn’t show up in the screenplay.
And since I’m making so many mentions of the lame screenplay, I think it’s time to actually focus on it and let you know, it may not be as bad as I may make it seem, it just doesn’t really seem to be the main objective in anybody’s eyes here. Which, like I said before, is fine because of the stylish direction working with it, but does end up causing a problem for the movie’s main sell: The love story between Charlie and Gabi. See, we get that Charlie is head-over-heels in love with this Gabi chick, and feels the same way she does about life, but never fully feel like he’s in love with her, nor that they are the star-struck lovers that would fight to the death just to be with one another for the rest of each other’s lives. There’s plenty of scenes of them running around the streets, happy, sometimes holding hands and kissing, but they can only go so far until we realize that the romance itself is a bit shallow, and under-cooked. Which, ultimately, leads us to the problem that even when the idea that their romance is being threatened by these outside, way powerful sources, it doesn’t really hit us as hard as it should, and just makes us feel bad for Charlie himself, and less about the romance between him and Gabi.
But the reason why we do care so much about Charlie is that because Shia LaBeouf really does seem like he’s passionate about making this character work, and the effort pays off well. LaBeouf has never been anybody’s favorite cup of tea, and while he’s always been mine, it makes me happier and happier each day to see him just play around with his self-image, take roles that challenge his ass two-ways-from-Saturday and continue to just show us his abilities as an actor. Of course everybody’s going to have to wait and see what he’s FULLY capable of in Nymphomaniac, but here, as Charlie Countryman, LaBeouf gives you the idea that he not only wants to be Charlie, but he actually is Charlie. You feel bad for this small, sheepish guy because you know he means well and just wants to be loved, but still can’t get past the fact that he’s fallen for the wrong girl, and is basically in the wrong situation right from the start. Once shit does begin to hit the fan, and we see Charlie’s life practically crumble all around him, he’s the one we care about the most and want to see live for the rest of his days. This is all thanks to LaBeouf’s determinism to make Charlie, not just as a movie character, but as person, to work and be believable, and it works. Good for him, and good for us.
Despite her character not being as interesting, or even likable as LaBeouf’s, Evan Rachel Wood still does a fine job as Gabi, even if it is clearly obvious that the odds are stacked against her and that poor accent of hers. Also, her character does seem like your traditional “troubled, young girl can’t get out of slum world she used to be apart of”-role that so many attractive actresses take, and still can’t seem to make believable. Mads Mikkelsen plays her crazy and violence-driven ex-hubby, Nigel, giving us the type of sadistic bastard we all know and usually see him as. Since he and Charlie make such good counter-parts, it’s easy to want to see their final-duel, even if it’s pretty obvious who’d win in that brawl. Though, who knows? Maybe Shia would pull off the upset. Just ask Tom Hardy.
Consensus: More style here, than actual substance with Fredrik Bond behind-the-mantel of Charlie Countryman, but somehow, it still works in giving us a somewhat compelling story, with more than a few good performances from the cast, especially a very inspired Shia LaBeouf.
7 / 10 = Rental!!