Charlie Countryman’s (Shia LaBeouf) is a young fella living in Chicago. His mother (Melissa Leo) just died. He asks her what to do with his life. She tells him to go to Bucarest, Romania. Following a dead woman’s advice he hops on the first plane to Europe. On the plane he meets a man. He dies also. After his death he tells Charlie to bring a gift to his only daughter, Gabi (Evan Rachel Wood) to let her know how much he loved her. Charlie meets Gabi and instantly falls in love with her. However things get complicated when Nigel (Mads Mikkelsen), Gabi’s jealous ex-husband, is not ready to let her go. Charlie meets all sorts of weirdos, starting with his hostel roommates and ending in a shady strip joint where Darko (Til Schweiger), a local mobster is threatening to do bad things to them.
The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman (or simply Charlie Countryman, if you prefer the short title) is Fredrik Bond‘s debut feature film and a very weird one. It’s rare for me to find myself in a position where I’m not sure how to read the film, what it’s going for or how to interpret it, when the narrative is fairly straightforward in a structural and storytelling sense. Not having seen any of Bond’s other films, I have a hard time trying to figure this guy out. I can’t really tell if the mood and tonal shifts, plot-holes or poor characterizations are intentional or not. When I try to evaluate if a film succeeds I always try to understand what it was going for. Here I’m not so sure. However I can tell you what I liked and didn’t liked.
Let’s start with what I liked: Mads Mikkelsen. If there ever was an actor that embodied cool and sexy effortlessly, while at the same time being a spectacular actor of incredible depth, it has to be him (and Cary Grant of course). He is without a doubt the best thing about this movie. He almost makes the movie, but he’s not the protagonist unfortunately, so he can’t do everything. He certainly tries though, and he’s surrounded by other fantastic actors, that sadly feel either miscast or not on top of their game in this picture. Parts of it also has to do with the uneven writing. Shia LaBeouf and Evan Rachel Wood are both good in their respective roles (especially Wood), there’s not much for them to do with their characters being both underwritten.
The main problem is that this film is trying to develop its characters, while at the same time being heavily plot-driven. It’s impossible for the characters to breathe in this film, there’s not much room for them to expand and take a life beyond the story presented here. A lot of the things that happen in this film also don’t feel very “organic”. There are a lot of coincidences and things that come out of nowhere only to serve the plot. It all ends up feeling rather unsatisfying, messy and unnecessarily complicated. The visuals are quite beautiful though, I must say. The action is shot competently. There are some genuinely funny moments, there’s romance, there’s drama. A little something for everyone, but not mixed together very well, alas.
When all is said and done this film was entertaining to watch, even if it doesn’t work as well as it could have. It’s a debut film, so there’s still a lot of room for the director to grow. He seems to be still searching to find his own voice and I’m sure that with the right script he can do a lot better. It’s difficult to say whether he’s good with actors, because he’s working with some of the most amazing people in the business. Mads couldn’t turn in a bad performance if he tried. By the way: I like that they didn’t explain why Charlie can talk to dead people, smart decision. If I may, I’d like to recommend to watch this movie as you relax with a drink. It helps you get in the right mood and a lot of the wacky stuff that goes on, will make a lot more sense.
Rating on First Viewing: 6.5 out of 10