Editor’s note: Our review of what was then called The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman originally ran during this year’s Sundance film festival, but we’re re-posting it now as the film opens in limited release today.
A close up of a beaten and bloodied Shia LaBeouf (who plays the title character) hanging upside down is the first image of The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman and brings one question to mind: what did Charlie do? A voice over (from John Hurt) explains simply that “love is pain” as the story takes us “back to the beginning” to a stark hospital room where Charlie’s mother (Melissa Leo) lies dying.
As she takes her final breath, something strange happens, and suddenly a healthy looking Leo sits next to Charlie to impart some last words and wisdom. This idea that Charlie can hear from the dead (complete with a tongue-in-cheek joke about The Sixth Sense) is touched upon throughout the film, but unfortunately ends up being more distracting (and sometimes laughable) than a necessary trope to help drive the story along.
Charlie’s mom tells him he should go to Bucharest, essentially because she thinks he will “have fun” there. So he does.
Bucharest is certainly filled with adventure for Charlie, starting with the plane ride where he meets Victor (Ion Caramitru) who also has some final words for the lost young man. Once in Bucharest, Charlie meets a host of other characters, but his focus stays on a young, troubled woman he feels obligated to help. Gabi (Evan Rachel Wood) is Victor’s daughter and while Charlie falls for her quickly, her life is complicated, filled with mobsters (Mads Mikkelsen and Til Schweiger) and unfinished business.
The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman is certainly a trip as we watch the narrative unfold, knowing Charlie will be captured, beaten, and hung up by the end, but even if we had not known where we were headed, the dizzying ride that led to these events lessens any potential impact. Charlie is clearly troubled (when he takes drugs, he does not fall into a happy escape, it only brings up terrifying memories of his past), but despite his mom’s advice, this trip did not seem to help him work through those issues, he just gets distracted by new ones.
LaBeouf is certainly trying his hardest here, attempting to embody both the romance and action side of the narrative, and while this guy can certainly take a punch, the lack of palpable chemistry between him and Wood made it difficult to believe Hurt’s narration claiming love (like the brand Charlie and Gabi have) will save us.
First time film director Fredrik Bond comes from the commercial world, and it shows in his quick edits and electric soundtrack. Unfortunately the edits are more random than interesting and when the music (featuring artists like M83 and Sigur Rós) is finally turned up to drive the action, it is often too quickly cut short. A stylistic choice, but one that makes you feel like you are in a car with someone who couldn’t take their foot off the break.
There is an interesting story here, but Bond unfortunately seems more focused on making the film look cool than developing the performances within it.
The Upside: Decent (albeit manic) performance from LaBeouf; some engaging visuals that hint at what this filmmaker could do if he focused on one idea instead of all his ideas.
The Downside: Too much crammed into a singular story that ends up coming across as muddled rather than inspiring.
On the Side: In one of his first major roles since the Harry Potter franchise, Rupert Grint again finds himself in a trio of friends, but this time as a fellow traveler attempting to follow his dream: to be a porn star. A far cry from Ron Weasley’s days at Hogwarts.