Watch This Now: Charlie Countryman, From Bucharest With Love

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CHARLIE_sized_03Photo: Courtesy of Millennium Entertainment.
Charlie Countryman is not a love story. Well, it is and it isn't, but then it is again. For a little over 90 minutes, Fredrik Bond reaches deep into your chest, cups your heart, squeezes it, throws it to the ground, and then, ever so gently, returns it. It's an art film bent on reinvigorating the romance narrative with guns, blood, and the girl that got away. To say it's one of the more important films to surface this year wouldn't be an understatement, but it wouldn't be an overstatement, either.

You see, Charlie Countryman is a film of extreme contrasts. It begins with death. Our first introduction to Shia LaBeouf's Charlie Countryman finds him dangling above a reservoir — bloodied and being shot at. He plummets to the water below; the story begins. In a stark hospital room — one of the more inherently unnerving scenes to play across the silver screen this year — Charlie watches his comatose mother (played by Melissa Leo) get taken off life support. He sees what would seem to be her soul (a sinewy, mercury-like thread) rise out of her body; he pops prescription pills. Leo visits Charlie in a vision and tells him to go to Bucharest. Why? "Because it seems specific."

On the plane to get his life in order, Charlie befriends his seatmate who, during a nap, passes away. In yet another pill-dazed vision, Charlie speaks with his late friend who asks him to deliver his gift to his daughter. He obliges.
CHARLIE_sized_02Photo: Courtesy of Millennium Entertainment.
Enter Gabi, a brilliantly casted Evan Rachel Wood. Charlie falls in love — that boyish wide-eyed kind of love. Life, it would seem, is looking up for our wayward traveler. But, remember, Charlie Countryman is not a love story.

Gabi is married to the cold-blooded killer Nigel (Mads Mikkelsen) who does not like his territory treaded on. What ensues is a mad descent into a unfortunately surface level exploration of the soul. On a Carpathian ecstasy roll with his makeshift hostel-mates, Karl and Luc (Rupert Grint and James Buckley), Charlie's lost boy presence begins to glow. The three guys go on rant about transferring energy, feeling the moment, and feeling one another's vibrations. (Fun fact: LaBeouf dropped acid to film this scene. Ruminate on that.) At one point, Charlie and Gabi youthfully explore the streets, and it's clear she's keen to him. "If you find me tomorrow, I'll kiss you," she whispers before bidding farewell; again, reiterating the theme of Charlie's search.

The emotional abuse that follows takes us through Bucharest's back alleys, strip clubs, the opera, and what-would-be romantic cafes. It's love that drives the anger. It's love that drives Charlie's search. It's love that will be his downfall.
CHARLIE_sized_01Photo: Courtesy of Millennium Entertainment.
This is a role that will lift the demonizing veil LaBeouf has draped over himself. His talent, so often masked by his pompous-jerk attitude, comes through in Charlie. This could be the role the resurrects him from all criticism.

What's lost is the oomph. Bond's overly artistic editing and ambient soundtrack digs right into your emotions, tearing them apart. He's cognizant of what will give the audience a visceral reaction, and for that, he should be applauded. But, underneath all that top-coat is a story that doesn't know what it wants to be.

Yes, it's a story built on contrasts — with death comes creation; with love comes a certain kind of death. But, there's a hugely missed opportunity to focus on a theme introduced right off the bat: the energy of the coming-of-age story. Rather than bludgeoning our protagonist to near-death, Bond might have, instead, directed our attention deeper into the story of the soul. Specifically, how energy is neither created nor destroyed and as a result we are, what Charlie harps on, "finite while infinite." Bond could have written a love story for the soul. Instead, we're left wondering whether or not it really matters if he gets the girl in the end.