If The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman had been a film that came out of the Hollywood studio system as opposed to the independent circuit, it would be safe to assume that it would be received as an ambitious project that was likely cut down due to meddling studios. It feels as if it’s missing the polish, or perhaps important plot details, that would elevate it to a level at which one can recommend it. But since there would be no incentive for director Fredrik Bond’s vision to be interfered with, I can only assume that the result is his fault.
The plot begins with a death. Not the death of Charlie Countryman (Shia LaBeouf), which is prophesied by the title, but of his mother (Melissa Leo). Charlie then hallucinates — or is it truly a hallucination? — her, and she tells him that he should take a trip to Bucharest. On the plane, he sits next to Bill (Vincent D’Onofrio), who also dies, also visits Charlie after death, and tells him to visit his daughter, Gabi (Evan Rachel Wood). Charlie does this and falls in love.
Gabi is married to Nigel (Mads Mikkelsen), a crime boss. You don’t mess with Nigel. But Charlie doesn’t care, as he’s in love. From here, the film progresses as you’d expect. Charlie gets into trouble, Charlie runs away from trouble, Gabi maybe falls in love with Charlie but you can’t be sure because she wants to leave him alone for his own safety, and Charlie gets into more trouble. An incriminating videotape gets involved at one point, but that’s mostly at the end and serves more as a MacGuffin than something integral.
There isn’t a whole lot to the plot. I’ve laid out for you most of it. There are a couple of secondary characters — who don’t wind up being important — a drug trip or two — Shia LaBeouf reportedly dropped acid for real in order to film the scenes when his characters is on the drug — and some minor details left out, but for the most part, you can summarize the plot very easily. It’s not deep, even if it is dressed up to look like something more meaningful.
The film has an interesting look, I’ll give it that. Bucharest has its own appeal and shooting a movie there is a good idea. Director Bond does what he can to make the film as visually interesting as possible. You wouldn’t be able to give a film this type of appearance in Hollywood. But it’s all dressing and no depth, like putting glitter and stickers on the wrappings of a mummy. It’ll look pretty but underneath there’s still a decomposed body. And the glitter will stick to you because glitter never comes out.
It also doesn’t have any strong characters; they’re all of surface-level depth at best. Charlie is a puppy dog in love, Gabi is the object of desire, Nigel is the evil and maybe insane guy. That’s about it. The characters bend and mold to fit the scene they’re in, meaning they have little identity to call their own. They’re the type of people who want to be popular so they switch their personality depending on the situation. This can be effective if used for a purpose but here I believe it’s just poor writing.
You can’t even believe the central romance between Charlie and Gabi. The shallow-as-can-be characters don’t help this, but there’s also no effort put into making their romance believable. Charlie sees her, falls in love, and that’s that. They have a date but mostly just walk around. Their dialogue exchanges consist primarily of trading monologues of exposition. Even if Charlie does love her on first sight, why would she love him back, if she even does? He listens well, and he’s kind, but that’s about it.
The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman also plays out like a mix-mash of various genres and tones, never settling down. This can be successful, but only in the hands of someone who knows how to properly balance it. Here, we move from magical realism, to travelogue, to romance, to coming-of-age, to action, to even a little bit of film noir. None of the individual pieces work and the film as a whole is unsuccessful as a result of both that and an inability to put everything together.
About the only positive — save for the visual style, which gives the film a unique look — you can find in this movie is the acting. People hate Shia LaBeouf, but he has considerable talent and he goes a long way in an attempt to make this project watchable. Evan Rachel Wood is often incredible, and while she’s not bad here I couldn’t help wonder why a Romanian actress couldn’t have been hired. Then she wouldn’t have had to put on an accent (or appear in a bad movie). Mads Mikkelsen is menacing as the villain, chewing up just enough scenery to make his hiring worthwhile.
The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman. His death might be necessary by watching it most certainly isn’t. Ba-dum-tish! In all seriousness, this is a tonally inconsistent, shallow film about less than it wants. It has good actors playing terribly uninteresting and inconsequential characters doing little that matters for a plot that should take about 30 minutes to play out, not 110. It has a good look and uses its exotic location well, but The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman isn’t worth seeing.