SUNDANCE: The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman (**½)

charlie cWith style to spare but substance at a premium, The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman is the type of film that works as a calling card for a filmmaker, but not as too much else. Director Fredrik Bond has taken a somewhat half-baked screenplay by Matt Drake and spiced it up with whatever visual flairs he could come up with. Bond and Drake just seem like an ill fit for the material (even with the latter supposedly basing the story off of an actual experience he had while abroad in Romania), and while stars Shia LaBeouf and Evan Rachel Wood aren’t bad at all, they just aren’t especially well-directed or suited for the film. While Mads Mikkelsen and Til Schweiger are more fitting for their villainous roles, it’s still just an imperfect mix all around from the get go. No one here is memorable and everything about it just feels unnecessary. The first couple of scenes and the final one are better than the rest of it, but a huge section in the middle is repetitive, and quite frankly just boring. Visual stimulant can only do so much.

The story follows an adventure in the life of the title character, one Charlie Countryman (LaBeouf). As told to us by an unseen narrator (voice of John Hurt), Charlie isn’t exactly a guy with a focused path in life. When his moth Katie (Melissa Leo) dies, Charlie is pretty much lost and in need of a purpose. He gets it in a vision where his mother comes to him and urges him to go to Bucharest. Charlie doesn’t question the spirit and heads there, though while on the plane over he meets a cab driver named Victor (Ion Caramitru). They bond, but Victor passes away on the flight and comes to him in a vision, asking him to give his daughter Gabi (Evan Rachel Wood) a gift from him. He finds her and immediately falls in love with her, though she’s the ex-wife of a notorious gangster named Nigel (Mikkelsen). The latter continually is menacing the former, but Charlie is not to be dissuaded. He believe he’s found true love and needs to rescue Gabi, though she may not actually want that at all. The plot is pretty generic and actually benefits from the director’s stylings, but it’s just not enough.

necessary-death-of-charlie-countryman-shia-labeoufI can appreciate Shia LaBeouf trying something different here, and while this isn’t his greatest performance, it’s certainly one of his upper tier efforts. LaBeouf is your vessel into this stylized world and you often feel his pain. Evan Rachel Wood is effectively mysterious, but she just doesn’t get enough to do. Ion Caramitru is nice in his short scene, though Melissa Leo is wasted in what amounts to a cameo. Mads Mikkelsen gets to have some fun and chew the scenery in another showy bad guy role, while Til Schweiger is rather ominous as a rival gangster. They’re all solid enough, and aided by supporting turns from the likes of Rupert Grint and James Buckley,  but they’re all in the service of a flawed script and direction that is nice to look at but ultimately empty.

Fredrick Bond is making his feature debut after a long career in commercials, and it shows. There’s plenty of panache and it’s clear that he wants to be noticed, but it comes at the expense of telling a good story. Now, the script by Matt Drake isn’t so hot, but a better director could have worked with it and massaged it into something worthwhile. Bond rarely is about to achieve that, though the narration that Drake penned somehow works better than I was expecting. Drake’s characters are pretty thin and Bond never looks to give them much depth, so that limits the quality of the performances. A little more work on the script and some more character based direction could have helped this movie out a lot.

The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman feels like the type of film that wants to be like Drive (2011), but just doesn’t know how to go about doing it. I’m definitely on the thumbs down side of things. I could see it making a few bucks if/when it opens sometime in 2013, but don’t go in expecting to see much if you wind up checking it out. There was potential here, but most of it winds up going unrealized.

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!