Film Review: Charlie Countryman

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Plot: After his mom (Melissa Leo) dies, Charlie (Shia LaBeouf) goes to Bucharest and becomes the target of a vile crime lord (Mads Mikkelsen) after Charlie falls in love with his wife, Gabi (Evan Rachel Wood).

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My first observation when watching Charlie Countryman is that they give Shia LaBeouf greasy long hair and a beard in an attempt to hide his Shia LaBeouf-ness. Does it work? Well, we’ll get to that. Charlie Countryman is an up and down movie, but it has its moments. One word that keeps popping into my head though when thinking about this film is “flimsy.”

So we open with LaBeouf’s character Charlie Countryman going to the hospital. His mom Kate (Leo) dies, and the director (Fredrik Bond) does a good job of establishing the idea that Kate was a so/so mother. The plot begins when Charlie has a vision of his mom telling him he should move to Bucharest. Okay, let’s stop there for a moment. I can buy Charlie having some sort of vision of his mom (maybe it’s a dream). That’s fine. Where the premise gets flimsy for me though is why would he randomly go to Bucharest? There’s no hint or suggestion that Bucharest has some sort of meaning or history for Charlie, so what’s the deal? It just seems like the writer (Matt Drake) was desperate for his story to take place in Bucharest, and was exceptionally lazy about it at the script stage. Also, Charlie basically tells his friend (Aubrey Plaza), “Yea, I’m going to Bucharest,” and she just says “Okay.” Come on…he’s living in Chicago. It’s not like Bucharest is across the street. It’s just really annoying how cavalier the movie is about Charlie instantly packing up to make this massive life change. He’s in Chicago, maybe he needs to take a day, go to a Blackhawks game or something, and just think about things. I guess I can accept the fact that when you lose someone like your mom, it’s going to make you do and think outside the norm, so while this whole story is a bit flimsy, I can barely accept it.

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Let’s talk about the actual character of Charlie, played by the one and only Shia LaBeouf. LaBeouf is a mediocre actor, and he’s mediocre here, but certainly much better than he was in Lawless, which was an atrocious performance. The character just isn’t written very well. He’s totally inconsistent. I don’t know if he’s brash, neurotic, scared, cocky, an asshole, he’s just all over the map. His character made it real hard for me to connect with this movie in that I had no grasp of who this guy was. While there were certainly issues with the writing, another actor could have significantly elevated this material. If Joseph Gordon-Levitt played this role, I could have liked this movie a lot. Again, LaBeouf isn’t bad, but he can’t save the bad writing.

There aren’t a lot of supporting characters to write home about either. The bad guys who go after Charlie are Nigel (Mikkelsen), Gabi’s wife, and Darko (Til Schweiger), a sleazy club owner. They are totally forgettable. Then we have Charlie’s goofy friends, Luc (James Buckley) and Karl (Rupert Grint). They are funny here and there, but didn’t add a whole lot, and seemed like an excuse to force lame juvenile shock humor. Melissa Leo was good, albeit a very short role. And while I like Aubrey Plaza, there’s absolutely no reason for her to be in this movie. She has two lines, and felt like she just randomly walked onto the set, so they might as well use her.

The one character and performance that really saved this movie was Evan Rachel Wood as Gabi, the woman who falls in love with Charlie, and is the main crux of the plot. She was the most interesting character by far, and the one I sympathized with most. I wish the film was more about her as opposed to Charlie. While some of their scenes aren’t overly compelling, the relationship between her and Charlie works well for the most part. You buy that Charlie would risk so much to be with her. Anytime she’s on screen, the movie is infinitely watchable.

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For a first time director, Fredrik Bond did a decent job of overcoming a weak script. There’s a tense chase scene at a subway station that almost felt like it could have been in a Bourne movie. Although for as great as this sequence was, it’s negated two seconds later in the next scene. And for as flimsy as the premise was, the end is even sloppier. It felt like they were making it up as it went along. Despite some of these issues, the director may have some potential with a better script.

While Charlie Countryman has more negatives then positives, I was never bored, and really did like Evan Rachel Wood’s performance. The music and score is also excellent. My biggest problem is that I just didn’t connect with the main character at all. LaBeouf is okay, but another actor and better script could have made this great. I did care how the story ended, so there’s something to be said for that.

Rating: 6 out of 10 (‘Meh’)

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.