There’s been a lot of talk recently about Sweden’s newly developed Feminist film rating system based on the Bechdel Test, which determines whether or not a film incorporates gender biases. So with this in mind, naturally, “The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman” caught my eye seeing it was screened this past week at the Stockholm International Film Festival. The film stars Evan Rachel Wood alongside Shia LaBeouf, and features appearances from Rupert Grint, Til Schweiger, and type-cast super-villain, Mads Mikkelsen (“Casino Royale”). LaBeouf plays the title character, Charlie Countryman, as he “floats through life” and undergoes a dramatic change of life events after his mother dies. Following the hallucinogenic advice of his mother, Charlie travels to Bucharest, Romania, where he fatefully encounters Gabi Ibanescu (Wood) and falls in love, only to confront her violent and intimidating ex-partner, Nigel. “The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman” follows the ill-fated relationship between Charlie and Gabi as Charlie confronts death time and again in order to be with the woman he loves.
“Problems make us who we are, give us character.”
The film was originally titled “The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman” and was shortened when introduced at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2013 as “Charlie Countryman.” Upon learning the film’s original title, part way through the film, I found myself becoming obsessed for answers as I watched it, the title clearly giving away that Charlie dies, and suggests his death is necessary for some reason.
With that information, I hungrily watched the film for clues as to why Charlie must die and for whom it is necessary. Many facets of “death” are explored in “Charlie Countryman,” many figurative, not just literal. How to cope with the death of a loved one is a significant motif the film works through between the relationship of Charlie and Gabi. As well, early in the film Charlie’s mom speaks to him about the mechanical and mediocre life he’s led up until this point, and from then on, Charlie’s character changes and develops as he tries to immerse himself in Gabi’s life. In that way, I also believe the ‘necessary death’ is one of Charlie’s character. For him to be reborn in Romania, his old life in Chicago must die away. For him to be with Gabi, he must be willing to face death itself.
“Put a pin in the love story.”
“The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman” is sexy, colourful, and artistic, beautifully shot, and wittily written. LaBeouf plays pill-popping, acid-raving, hopeless romantic Charlie remarkably well (rumour has it he actually consumed LSD to “get it right”), and Wood’s ability to maintain the same Romanian accent consistently through the film is impressive. The acting isn’t over-the-top cheesy, but just enough for a dramatic romance, and the cheese is usually instigated by LaBeouf, as per usual. Mikkelsen plays a fantastic villain; however, his performance in the denouement leaves much to be desired. The romance is charming, and occasionally unconventional, particularly for Wood’s character who holds a significant amount of power over the actions of the male characters throughout “Charlie Countryman.”
I found “The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman” highly entertaining, particularly since I was driven along under the suspicion that I would learn why Charlie must die, and what type of “death” he must undergo. For that reason, along with LaBeouf’s performance (and long-haired sexiness), I would encourage many to watch “Charlie Countryman.” But, for every positive comes a negative or two: the ending was climatic yet unsatisfying. Some bizarre, and, I believe, somewhat out-of-character, events occur bringing the film to a sudden conclusion with catchy music creating an ending that’s too “pretty” and surprisingly unsurprising. To put it bluntly, I would have much rather watched “Charlie Countryman” up until the last fifteen minutes. But despite the ending leaving a bad taste in my mouth, “The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman” has potential. And I’m still on the fence as to whether it would pass the Bechdel Test.
My Rating: 7/10