'Charlie Countryman' Review: Shia LeBeouf in 'No Country for Young Men'
She didn’t want to see it, really.
In fact she sat in the back row of the theater so she could use her phone, under a jacket. There was just too much going on to focus. Wouldn’t it be nice if she didn’t feel the need to check her phone every few minutes? What is this movie about anyway? Everyone saw it at Sundance, it was called The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman, but apparently it’s been heavily re-edited and everyone likes it better now, or hates it the same, who can keep track. Every movie is about death these days.
Opening credits! Thought these babies were a thing of the past. But no, here they are, reminding us that we are watching a movie. Reassuring in a very basic way.
Charlie’s mom (Melissa Leo) is dying, which sets him (Shia LeBeouf) off on a journey of self discovery to far-away Bucharest. He kind of gets tangled up with death, and seems to be able to communicate with the recently deceased, asking for advice and finishing their business on Earth. In Bucharest, he manages to kind of escape working through his complicated feelings about his mother dying by falling in love with classical cellist Gabi (Evan Rachel Wood), who is married to a kind of generic bad guy gangster (Mads Mikkelsen). Charlie also hangs out with some kooky kids from his hostel (James Buckley and Rupert Grint), doing drugs and going to a titty bar (There’s a lot of topless girls in this one, presumably because it is set in Europe!!!). There’s yet another gangster (Til Schweiger) now threatening Charlie, and in any case, there’s a whole wild world of drugs, crime and murder in Romania, and Charlie is mixed up in all of it.
The whole thing is a kind of bait and switch. You think it’s going to be an introspective film about self discovery and the process of dealing with grief and death, but instead you really have no idea what’s going on or where it’s going. Which I kind of like! Subvert all my expectations, please, movie. But, it’s not very good, is the sad other side of that coin. Writer Matt Drake (“Oh, Matt Drake! Who wrote the Project X screenplay! Him!” — Project X fans, presumably) watched Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and probably wanted to try his hand at the sprawling intertwined crazy zany plot thing. It’s watchable, and it’s different, but I don’t know that it adds substantially to the world at large. Gangsters, Romanian drugs and tits and the whole nine yards, what a wild ride! we might think, if we’d never seen a movie before.
The one element that fails most immensely is also the bit that feels the most refreshing, beautiful, interesting to watch — the montage sequence of Charlie and Gabi feeling free and romantic, alive and well in a city that does not know their names. Charlie so earnestly pleads his case, telling her over and over that “[there is] us!” spouting off about how they are like a pearl inside the oyster of the world. I know, cringe-worthy! Yet, there may not be a more intoxicating idea in all the world. Us. The thing that allows us to fight demons and behave with unbridled earnest enthusiasm. Still, what could be more embarrassing to observe in others? We see this spark between the two of them, this tiny kernel of a new love and nothing can be more painful. Don’t you know this can’t last? Don’t you know that new things get old too? Later on in the film, Charlie says, entirely without irony, “If I die for love, [that’s a] pretty cool way to go.” Cringe.
Charlie Countryman as a movie wants to be funny, and sometimes it is, but it also wants to be interesting and cool, and it isn’t totally those things. Charlie Countryman is pretty pathetic as a lead, falling asleep constantly, always getting beat up, a sorry excuse for a leading man. All he has to recommend himself is his unbridled, unyielding commitment to ignoring the tremendous pain he’s dealing with at any given time.
This movie is earnest, which isn’t actually a bad thing, as much as people want to crap all over sincerity. Feelings are tiring, I get it. Unfortunately it’s also campy and silly, strange and sprawling. If you like Shia LeBeouf, perhaps it’s worth a watch, and Mads Mikkelsen is alwayyyyys worth a watch, but otherwise, there’s other, better movies to see out there. Many of them. Most of them.
Amanda Meyncke just wishes she could, but realizes she can’t. Follow her on Twitter.