Sundance '13: Stylized Love in 'Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman'
by Alex Billington
January 21, 2013
He did it all for love. One of the recurring themes of this year's Sundance Film Festival is the lengths we go, the decisions we make, all in the name of love, in the heat of passion. The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman is the feature debut of highly acclaimed commercials & music video director Fredrik Bond, telling a story of love set mostly in Bucharest, Romania starring Shia LaBeouf as Charlie. As one would expect from a commercials director, it's a very stylized, very music video-esque film but I don't mind, I loved it. It got to me in all the right ways and was entertaining to watch. A hell of a feature debut for Fredrik Bond.
The film kicks off with Charlie, played by a long-haired and gruff Shia LaBeouf who gives an impressively emotional and bloody performance, watching his mother pass away in Chicago. The voice over (with John Hurt's voice) explains that this is the point where his life changes. Oddly, Charlie has a clear vision of his recently deceased mother who tells him to go to Bucharest, so out of nowhere he packs up and heads there. On the plane ride over he meets an old Romanian man who, upon also dying, tells him to give the "funny hat" he bought to his beautiful daughter. When he lands his adventure in Romania begins, and we follow along on his life-changing journey deep into the throes of love throughout the colorful streets of Bucharest.
Truth be told, I'm pretty sure I loved this film a lot more than everyone else, and I'm going to be one of its biggest supporters. First things first, there is no question that it was made by a commercials director. The soundtrack and choice of excellent music (like M83 and Sigur Ros) combined with an intense visual style, using slow motion and camera tricks as well as conventional shots, are obviously influenced by Bond's past work (including music videos). But it's still a great feature debut for the filmmaker, as all of that is used to enhance the experience of this exhilarating adventure of love that Charlie ends up on. It wasn't overwrought to me, only a clear expression of his unique vision, and I think he'll only improve as he makes more films.
In regards to Bond's specific style, the feeling I had watching this was something visually reminiscent of early David Fincher work, but similar to Kontroll, a film that takes place in Budapest (not Bucharest). The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman is, in simple terms, a very entertaining crime story about a "kid" who gets mixed up with the wrong people all because the feelings and pains and aches of love keep bringing him back. The girl he's after is Gabi, portrayed by Evan Rachel Wood who is actually playing a Romanian girl complete with a perfect accent and dark red hair, and she's simply stunning. I love Evan Rachel Wood anyway, but as always with these kind of films, she surprised me by how damn good she is, accent and all.
The best part about Charlie Countryman is the cast, and it's great to see that Fredrik Bond can get strong performances out of his actors in addition to a sleek visual style. Mads Mikkelsen and Til Schweiger also show up as the bad guys, but as rather mediocre characters. The screenplay isn't perfect and the film has a few issues with tone and pacing, but beyond that it's an enjoyable experience and a very strong feature debut that I'm already excited to revisit. It won't be for everyone and those who dislike style over substance should stay away, but those who can appreciate the ultimate power love has over us should be entertained.
Alex's Sundance Rating: 8.5 out of 10