Sunday 9 November 2014

Charlie Countryman by Matt Drake

The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman is one of the best films of the year. Under this unnecessarily unwieldy title lies a small but perfect cinematic gem — a minor masterpiece. Shia LaBeouf stars as the eponymous Charlie, and he has never been better. With his soulful, hangdog face he instantly commands the audience's sympathy.

Charlie Countryman is essentially the story of an emotionally confused young American tourist who visits Bucharest (the capital of Romania, and a fantastically photogenic city) where he becomes embroiled in an adventure of love, murder and mayhem.

But on top of that, the movie has a supernatural spin. It turns out that Charlie can see the spirits of the recently deceased. Indeed, he's gone to Bucharest because the shade of his mother has suggested it's just thing he needs to do.

I was ambivalent about this fantasy element to the film. It almost seemed expendable. Yet it also provided crucial turning points in the plot — and some of the best gags in the picture. Because Charlie Countryman is one very funny movie, utterly madcap. 

Almost as soon as he lands in Bucharest, Charlie falls in love with Gabi, a ravishing cellist. But Gabi has a dark side. Her ex (in fact, she's still married to him) is a homicidal drug dealer called Nigel, and he isn't pleased to have Charlie on the scene...

This is a lustrous, sumptuous film magnificently photographed by Roman Vasyanov (a Russian cinematographer who recently did the Brad Pitt war movie Fury).

The director is Fredrik Bond who is making his stunning feature debut here. He previously worked on a film about the musician Moby (who gets a thank you in the closing credits).

And the outstandingly fresh, engaging and wacky script was written by Matt Drake whose most recent screenwriting credit was on Project X, a memorable little picture about a teenage party which explodes into catastrophe when word of it goes viral on social media. I see hundreds of movies every year, but Project X stuck in my memory and now I wonder if that was because of Drake's contribution. He's clearly a writer to be reckoned with.

As Charlie's love interest, Evan Rachel Wood is gorgeous — positively radiant. And deeply convincing — I thought she must be Romanian until I checked her name in the credits. It's an odd, backhanded compliment to say her accent was so authentic that I found it confusing. (I thought she was saying "leave" when she was saying "live". Or was it the other way around?) Wood is a stunner. I last sighted her in a pivotal role in The Ides of March and I'm about to see her as the poisonous daughter Veda in the HBO mini series of James M. Cain's novel Mildred Pierce. I'm looking forward to it.

The heavy of the piece — and Gabi's husband — is Mads Mikkelsen, a Danish actor who was so great in A Royal Affair and The Hunt. He also played the bad guy in Casino Royale. Here he is being bad again. He's magnificent; savagely menacing even when he's wearing a shirt printed with a pattern of cartoon dachshunds. (The inventive costume design is by Jennifer Johnson who worked on Hard Candy.)
And Rupert Grint (best known as Harry Potter's sidekick) and James Buckley (hugely famed in England for his comedy The Inbetweeners) also appear as a couple of delightfully drug-addled young British tourists who share a hostel with Charlie and drag him along to a strip club, where things go horribly awry...

Catch Charlie Countryman on the big screen while you can. It won't be around for long. It's opening weekend's box office in America was $8,000 — compared to $34,000,000 (!) for the inept and laughable Equalizer. Charlie Countryman is an underdog blockbuster, an indie smash, a great little movie. Utterly screwball, but utterly spellbinding. 

(Image credits: The bulk of the pictures are from Ace Show Biz, as usual. The purple heart image ("pretty f***ing cool") is from Indie Wire. The neon heart image is from Cineworld, where I saw the movie. This diversity of posters seems to indicate that the suits were uncertain — baffled, actually — as to how they should market this splendidly strange film. The shot of Mads in his dachshunds shirt is from the Mads Mikkelsen site.)

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