Avery Paul (Glen Gould) is a former boxer picking up trash for work and shooting internet street fights at night for extra cash. It's a barrel-scraping, go-nowhere life, so when a frantic woman offers him $25,000 to find a drug-addicted girl and bring her back to her parents, he agrees. When he actually captures Jan (Amanda Crew), however, he finds a string of guys on his tail, from her junkie kingpin boyfriend Tal (Pasha Ebrahimi) and his right-hand man Donny (Mpho Koaho) to a violent biker gang who bring jumper cables and nail guns as torture devices. To make things worse, the "parents" look a little fishy, and Jan's story is wild and disturbing, wrapping Avery up in an increasingly complicated moral conflict.
Although Charlie Zone is not a particularly great thriller, it's certainly unique, which ought to count for something. The trailer for the film suggests a standard revenge thriller, but there's a more twisted movie here than can be explained in a two-minute trailer. Director Michael Melski, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Joseph LeClair, are not afraid to dip deep into extreme, bloody violence and unexpectedly horrifying revelations, spinning a story that seems familiar at first but quickly begins to surprise, and without the obnoxious sense that the filmmakers are more interested in proving their own cleverness than telling a story. The film as a whole is middling, but the effort is respectable.
Without giving too much away, there are sexual revelations here about Jan that will make many viewers uncomfortable. It's the kind of subject that a film, particularly a thriller which uses this kind of crime as character motivation, must approach with care, because it could easily seem glib or insensitive, playing up a genuinely horrible thing for cheap thrills. To that end, although it will probably turn many viewers off the film, Melski and LeClair are sure to emphasize the disturbing nature of what Jan reveals about herself, using imagery and iconography in some of the film's more disturbing moments to put the sickness front and center. At no point is the gravity of Jan's story de-emphasized so that the viewer can have fun, which is arguably the right way to play it.
Charlie Zone also introduces race as an interesting factor in the story, with Avery's heritage brought up as a central factor in his own backstory. It's interesting how even a small amount of culture and heritage emphasizes the complete lack of these things in other thrillers, but it gives Charlie Zone a measure of personality that other movies wouldn't have bothered with. I can't say that Avery's American Indian roots have much of an impact on the story, and may end up feeling like lip service in some regards, but this is a lesson in emphasizing cultural differences to remind us that we're all the same. In a year when Johnny Depp's portrayal of Tonto in The Lone Ranger is a hot debate, Charlie Zone ends up feeling timely.
All of this is appreciated, and it's better than a film leans this way than the other, but the downside here is that Melski's thriller techniques are not as honed. The extremity of the violence and story will probably be a little much for people looking for a casual thriller, and the film's pacing is languid, only occasionally going for fights and confrontations. One random moment in which drunk passerby harrass Avery and Jan is completely nonsensical, and feels like it was dropped in to give the film an awkward action beat. When there is action, Melski's technique mostly involves shaking the camera, which is obnoxious, although the matter-of-factness in some of his direction adds to the chilling nature, such as a scene when Avery stumbles on a garage with evidence of an unfinished plan. Gould and Crew work well together, and Crew commits to some intense withdrawal scenes, but it's enough to keep the ship afloat, not transcend other limitations.
Charlie Zone gets cover art that screams "minimal effort" -- a pic of Amanda Crew wielding a handgun, PhotoShopped into a random night-time alley, with some plain fonts and a generic tagline. The back cover looks a little more polished. The disc comes in a standard eco-friendly Blu-Ray case, and there is no insert inside the case.
The Video and AUdio
Anchor Bay presents Charlie Zone on Blu-Ray with an adequate 1.78:1 1080p AVC picture and Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio. Between the two, the video is superior, offering the expected levels of fine detail and depth with a small amount of banding and macroblocking. One shot / series of shots in the middle of a fight, has serious artifacting and contrast issues in the shadows around Gould's face, but it's a weird anomaly. It's not an exemplary HD presentation, but it's firmly in the positive end of the spectrum. The sound leans in the other direction, with a fairly flat, perfunctory mix failing to offer much separation. A street brawl at the beginning sounds pretty bland, with the effects lacking much oomph, and it has that "low-budget sound effect" problem from time to time. At one point, the hammer clicking is louder than the bang of the gunshot. Both ends show room for improvement but neither are so bad as to be outwardly disappointing or lacking. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and Spanish subtitles are also provided.
None. Trailers for Pawn and Chained play before the main menu. No trailers for Charlie Zone are included.
The Blu-Ray art and advertising for Charlie Zone had me expecting a cheap thriller, mired in cliche and hopefully avoiding any obnoxious stupidity. What I got was a thriller that's trying to be and say something different, without quite enough grasp of the basics to get it across. Those with a strong stomach for dark material and the patience for an uneven movie ought to rent it -- it will be interesting to see what kind of movie Melski makes next.
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