Berlin Film Festival review: The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman by Fredrik Bond

 

A word of advice for anyone planning to see The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman: don't go on a hangover.

Almost every second of this well-meaning but tedious and heavily cliched tale about self-discovery is set to dance beats so pumping that most of it feels like a long and forgettable night clubbing.

Shia LaBeouf is Charlie, recently bereaved of his mother (Melissa Leo), who appears from the dead to tell him to go on a trip to Bucharest. Why Bucharest? Who knows?

On the plane there, a jolly Romanian named Victor bonds with Charlie over their shared love of the Chicago Cubs, before promptly dying in the seat next to him and returning from the grave to ask him to give his beloved daughter the funny animal hat that he purchased for her Stateside.

When Charlie meets Gabi (Evan Rachel Wood with a dodgy Romanian accent) he falls instantly in love with her, inadvertently becoming embroiled in a criminal underworld involving a psychotic ex-husband (Mads Mikkelsen), an evil club owner named Darko (Til Schweiger) and crazy traveller buddies (Rupert Grint and James Buckley).

Director Fredrik Bond has until now worked mainly on commercials and it shows. The hyper-stylised so-mo running sequences and delirious nights out wouldn't look out of place in a music video. And the odd voice-over from John Hurt feels more like a John Lewis Christmas advert than it does a surreal crime caper.

You can see the sort of grown up fairy tale vibe Bond is going for, the kind of Slumdog Millionaire world where audiences are persuaded to suspend their disbelief about unlikely coincidences. But the problem here is that the tone jumps all over the place. One minute Mikkelsen and Schweiger's characters are threatening to glass Charlie, the next he's having a hilarious time in a strip club with crazy Carl (Grint, in his ongoing quest to shake off the shackles of Ron Weasley) who has overdosed on Viagra. Since we never really know what to take seriously it's hard to feel invested in any of it.

The are bursts of energy here that work (the subway chases, for instance) and LaBeouf certainly tries hard to imbue Charlie with charm and vulnerability. But none of it sticks. In the end this feels more like a gap year gone wrong than the weighty thriller romance it wants to be.

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