So many twenty-somethings of my generation wish they could just escape, be it from a mundane, ball and chain desk job, or a jobless after-college experience, or the debt-filled, stress-fueled lifestyle that our society now generates while we struggle just to keep our heads above water. We sometimes dream of just running away, hopping on a plane for a grand adventure we deserve, taking in all life has to offer – not watching it fly by as we put our nose to the grindstone day and day out, just to pay out our asses to do it again the next day.
That, in essence, is the story of Charlie Countryman, Fredrik Bond’s first directorial feature – except a death in our titular character’s family also prompts his adventure to a faraway land full of beautiful women, new friends, violence, gangsters, and incriminating evidence. Project X screenwriter Matt Drake essentially creates a mature fairytale, like something a mother would conjure up if her 23 year-old-child asked her to read them a bedtime story, complete with a main character searching for excitement, a princess in need of rescue, and the foul beast that stands in their way. The only problem is, are we too old for such tired stories, now?
Shia LaBeouf plays our hero, Charlie Countryman, who decides to move to Bucharest after his mother (Melissa Leo) passes away. Without guidance or any real direction, he plans to just stay up at a hostel and see where the winds take him – until he meets Gabi (Evan Rachel Wood). Crossing paths under less-than-desirable circumstances, Charlie immediately takes a liking to her, and with no plans, he starts to follow her around. The two kick it off, sparking a coy romance at first, but then Charlie realizes she’s already been claimed by a jealous mobster (Madds Mikkelsen). Can this scrawny, nerdy American be Gabi’s knight in shining armor, or will Charlie’s adventure be over before it even starts?
Fredrik Bond is best known for his more outlandish, yet highly stylized commercials, with American audiences probably recognizing him for his Heineken commercial “The Entrance” – you know, that random classy dude arrives at a swanky party and goes guest to guest being challenged to some ridiculous feat? It’s funny, because my first thoughts about Charlie Countryman had me relating it to a drawn-out music video or commercial, divided by moments of fantastical thinking and mass appeal. A smirk from Evan Rachel Wood, a slow-motion exclamation from Shia, quick cuts to flashy visuals – Bond absolutely uses his short, almost ADD-inspired filmmaking to keep Drake’s screenplay jumping around at a feverish pace. There’s no real stoppage of time – each moment leads directly into the next.
Shia Labeouf continues his journey into the bizarre, speeding towards the pornographic shocker Nymphomaniac, but Charlie Countryman provides a nice pit-stop for the new independent film ambassador. The character of Charlie isn’t exactly the most thoughtfully fleshed-out character, as I really don’t recommend flying to another country with no plan in hopes you’ll meet a girl and find adventure, but by movie standards, Charlie’s journey is a decent escape – particularly because Shia apparently took LSD during a scene that called for such influence. Now every kid in America caught using drugs can just say “What, I was just practicing my acting!” (Disclaimer: That was a joke. NO YOU CAN’T! Drugs are bad, Mmm kay?)
It’s funny, because at no point does Shia become a macho-type as he has to play both the hero and the victim. Again, is it believable that he risks his life for someone he barely knows, taking on an entire foreign underground crime syndicate? Probably not. Do we still get lost in this psychedelic, modern-day-storybook tale? Plenty of us will, but I can easily see purists scoffing at Charlie’s blind ambition and reckless regard for his own life – leaving your imagination at the door will not suit you well.
Shia’s support is absolutely phenomenal though, as Evan Rachel Wood plays a Romanian cellist, complete with the thick accent, and does so with enough intoxicating whimsy for us to believe Charlie’s infatuation. Mads Mikkelsen, on the other hand, does his best to terrify us with his gangster lifestyle, and does so pretty well. Muscling Charlie around, we wait anxiously for the murderer to snap, pulverizing Charlie in the process. His partner, played by Til Schweiger, does the same, and these two seriously make up a European gangster team worth their weight in gold. I personally love Schweiger, so adding his part to Mikkelsen’s was a delightful treat. Throw in Inbetweeners ramble-rouser James Buckley and Harry Potter‘s Rupert Grint as Charlie’s hostel mates (Grint gets to play an aspiring porn star), and you’ve got an extremely stellar supporting cast that aids in Bond’s hallucinogenic atmosphere.
In the end, your enjoyment of Charlie Countryman will be directly correlated to how much you can buy into the magical storytelling Bond creates. Spirit visitings, gun-play, minimal police involvement, drug-fueled partying – it can be a little hard to handle, but if you’re seriously looking for an escape, Charlie’s unprecedented foray into the strange and dangerous may be exactly what you’re looking for. I doubt you’ll have similar experiences in Bucharest, but Bond’s film teases of an alternate reality where life is effortlessly exciting and provocative – not a bad place to be for an hour and a half.