Fredrik Bond is most well known for shooting car commericals, and in his feature film debut, you can most definitely tell. Charlie Countryman has fast-paced action, a romantic story fit for a dramatic music video, and fantastic performances. Sometimes, it does feel like watching a very long full-throttle car commercial in the way certain scenes are executed, but Bond does a decent job trying to balance a tale of love filled with violent repercussions.
Charlie Countryman (Shia LaBeouf) has just lost his mother and he quickly runs to take her up on her final advice to visit Bucarest, Romania. Lost and probably feeling like a fish out of water, he heads to Bucarest, not really knowing what he’s going to do there, but needing to have a destination. On the plane ride there, he meets a man named Victor Ibanescu (Ion Caramitru), who’s on his way back from watching the Cubs play. Because Charlie apparently has the worst luck in the world, Victor dies before landing, but not before making Charlie promise to give a souvenir hat to his daughter Gabi (Evan Rachel Wood).
Charlie fulfills his promise and ends up getting romantically entangled with the mysterious cello player who’s ex-husband Nigel (Mads Mikkelsen)–though he insists they’re still married–is more than he seems. Meanwhile, Charlie takes up residence at a youth hostel where he meets Luc (James Buckley) and Karl (Rupert Grint) and their crazy late-night shenanigans leads them to learn just who Nigel really is and how he runs things in his town.
The movie is most definitely a different kind of love story. Not one that hasn’t been done before, but one that’s bold in a way that’s fresh and strangely exciting. It certainly keeps you in your seat the entire time, slow motion excitement and suspense building up to an adrenaline-fueled finale. Bond knows how to get people’s adrenaline going and he certainly puts that aspect of the film ahead of a lot of other story points.
A lot of people doubt Shia LaBeouf’s abilities as an actor, but he gives so much to this role and the final product is fantastic. He has some very intense scenes that range from the dramatic to the lightly humorous. From accidentally getting high on ecstasy to evading hired goons, LaBeouf’s portrayal of Charlie is one of his best performances to date.
Evan Rachel Wood isn’t Romanian, but if you didn’t know any better, you’d think she is. We meet her character just as she’s been struck by tragedy and innately know it doesn’t end there. Wood’s performance is pretty good, her chemistry with LaBeouf undeniable as her eyes maintain the haunted look of a woman stuck in a situation she tries to avoid.
James Buckley and Rupert Grint provide great comedic relief for the film and perfect victims, though it would have been nice to see more from their characters rather than being used mainly for laughs. Mads Mikkelsen is creepy and lethal in his role as Nigel. His presence is intense and his deadly calm is terrifying.
There are a lot of things that work in the film, one of them being the natural progression of its controlled, yet violent nature. There’s no doubt that the stakes are explained and not contrived, and that feels like a breath of fresh air. Bond falters a little bit when trying to flesh out the love story and its progression. It all seems to happen too fast and might have been better if more time had passed between Gabi and Charlie’s meeting and the events in the finale. There are some scenes that fall a little flat in the scheme of things, but Bond works to rectify it all so that by the time the credits roll, the film feels a little more solid than it had been earlier.
All in all, Charlie Countryman is a generally solid effort by Fredrik Bond. There are some scenes that pull you into the action and are so high energy that it’s obvious what Bond’s job description entailed before taking on this film. The performances are top notch from everyone, but LaBeouf most definitely stands out above the rest. Bond’s feature film debut is an action-packed adrenaline rush.