January 31, 2013

SHOWBUZZDAILY @ SUNDANCE 2013: “The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman”

It’s a cliche to say, when a director of commercials and music videos helms his or her first feature film, that the result resembles a video extended to feature length–and certainly not one that’s always true, as the debuts of, among others, Ridley Scott (The Duellists) and David Fincher (Alien 3) have shown.  But cliches aren’t necessarily inaccurate, and in THE NECESSARY DEATH OF CHARLIE COUNTRYMAN, Fredrik Bond has come up with a product that follows the aesthetic of his work with artists like Moby and Sigur Ros, rather than having any independent life of its own.  The result is visually arresting at times, but silly and inert as drama.

Charlie Countryman (Shia LaBeouf), at a loss after the death of his mother (Melissa Leo), flies to Bucharest at her ghostly behest (don’t ask), and is immediately embroiled in intrigue when the man sitting next to him on the flight dies in mid-air.  When he lands, he finds out that the man has a gorgeous cellist daughter, Gabi (Evan Rachel Wood), and soon after that, he sees Gabi embroiled with evil gangster Nigel (Mads Mikkelsen, doing his James Bond villain thing), and we’re off.

The plot, such as it is, contains little more than the usual noir piffle, but Matt Drake’s script isn’t the point of the movie; Bond cares far more about his images and non-stop stylistic touches.  The movie is narrated by the genial, garrulous off-screen presence of John Hurt (so we’ll know Bond’s seen Lars von Trier’s Mandalay, where Hurt served the same function), and every shot is attention-getting, from the opening sequence of Gabi, at Nigel’s order, shooting a slow-motion, upside-down Charlie who’s suspended over the water, i.e. his “necessary death” (and–SPOILER ALERT, I guess–if you think that’s not going to turn out to be a cheat, you’ve never seen a movie before), to the unnecessarily frenzied partying of Charlie with his new friends Carl (Rupert Grint, with a hard-on sequence that wouldn’t have been acceptable at Hogwarts) and Luke (James Buckley).  All of this is scored within an inch of its life, with contributions by Bond’s pals Moby and Sigur Ros, among others, and it ends up feeling like a long night in that club that was cool 6 months ago.

Somewhat remarkably, given all the “look at me!” directorial nonsense around her, Wood manages to be very good as Gabi, and one presumes Grint was looking for a role that let him be very different than the way audiences have perceived him for a decade, and he found one.  The rest of the cast fares less well.  LeBeouf, although not egregiously miscast this time around, shows us once again that he can’t really carry a film; there’s something thin and insubstantial about his presence, and despite all the stubble, bloodshot eyes and bad behavior, he still seems like he should be starring in movies set in high school.  Mikkelsen, a superb actor, and Til Schweiger as his henchman, are so wasted as the bad guys that they might as well be in a Jason Statham picture.

Bond is an accomplished technician, and Roman Vasyanov’s intrusive photography (he also shot End of Watch and The East), along with the crowded soundtrack, are almost certainly just what he wanted.  But continuing to do, as a feature filmmaker, what he’s been doing for years, except this time for 108 minutes, isn’t the formula for success.  The only thing Necessary Death makes essential is a Tylenol.




About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."