Charlie (LaBeouf) is devastated when his father (Vincent D'Onofrio) finally takes his mother (Melissa Leo) off of life support. Unable to look at her body, he ducks outside, only to be greeted by her spiritual or ghostly form. After a bit of motherly soothing, she tells him that he ought to see the world, and advises him to go to Bucharest. On the plane, Charlie is seated next to Victor Ibanescu (Ion Caramitru), who briefly chats up Charlie, then drifts into a nap that turns out to be permanent. Charlie also sees Victor again shortly after his death, and is given the task of finding Victor's daughter Gabi (Evan Rachel Wood). The moment Charlie meets her, he's in love, and he follows her like a puppy dog around Bucharest. There's only one complication: Gabi's violent gangster husband, Nigel (Mads Mikkelsen), who stayed away from her for years thanks to her father, but is free to return and menace her now the Victor is dead.
Watching Charlie Countryman, it's hard not to wish Charlie was played by someone whose charm felt more authentic. Even setting aside his recent grandstanding and seemingly endless ego when it comes to his work, LaBeouf's bag of tricks as an actor isn't that extensive -- self-deprecating sarcasm, a stuttering delivery that feels natural, and an emphasis on allowing the viewer to see his character is mentally processing a piece of information. Here, those "turning gears" are generally paired with hope in his big, soulful eyes that Gabi will continue to humor him. That may be what the script calls for, but the character of Charlie never quite seems charismatic enough. In LaBeouf's best scene, in which he coaches Gabi on how to replace a bad memory with a pleasant one, he drops the affectations, and briefly connects.
Thankfully, despite the title, the film is more than its main character. Fredrik Bond, in his directorial debut, envisions Charlie's story as a bloody, colorful, surreal fantasy, but, interestingly, a subtle one. The film takes place in a heightened reality where a character as menacing as Nigel can lurk around every street corner and hide in every shadow, and Charlie can see the ghosts of the recently departed, but doesn't quite drift into pure fantasy. A strip club in Bucharest, for instance, is the biggest, fanciest strip club around, but it's still possible to believe it exists. A drug trip sequence depicts the entire population of a youth hostel in the nude, but stops the fantasy there, with everyone milling around casually. It's a balance that prevents Bond from losing his emotional hold on the viewer, while also saturating the film with an excess of those feelings.
That head-over-heels attraction is embodied in Evan Rachel Wood, whose presence in the film is at least half of what makes the movie work. Once she begins to warm up to Charlie, there's an aura around her that is undeniably sexy -- a mix of maturity and playfulness, mysteriousness and cynicism, classiness and cool. It's easy to buy that she could play cello for the opera in the Bucharest Orchestra during the day, and run carefree through the streets of the city in a spiky leather jacket with a weird American tourist at night. Being around her is as intoxicating for the viewer as it is for Charlie. Similarly, Mikkelsen is equal parts seductive and threatening, using his incredible charisma to get in close before whispering an ultimatum. Half the time, it's ambiguous whether or not his character is really there, but either way, the actor leaves his mark. Til Schweiger plays pure threat as Nigel's associate Darko, and Rupert Grint is fine but unremarkable in one of his biggest post-Potter roles as one of Charlie's sweaty hostel roommates.
The Video and Audio
Right from the start, it's clear that this Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track has plenty to work with, deftly balancing the light piano score of the opening credits with the dull roar of distant action. Car crashes, the opera, crowded clubs, and gunshots follow, all enveloping the viewer in the film's specific atmosphere. The sound design here is hypnotic and English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and Spanish subtitles are also included.
Trailers for Parkland, As I Lay Dying, Ninja: Shadow of a Tear, and Hell Baby play before the main menu. An original theatrical trailer for Charlie Countryman is also included under the "Previews" tab on the main menu.