Shia LaBeouf has been busy since finishing his turn in the "Transformers" franchise. His latest is Charlie Countryman, a modestly ambitious psychological thriller with a romantic streak.
Here’s what Shia LaBeouf has been up to since finishing his turn in the “Transformers” franchise:
He made The Company You Keep, a modestly-budgeted high-minded thriller with Robert Redford.
There was Lawless, the Prohibition Era moonshining action picture with Tom Hardy.
He’s in the Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac, to be released late in December.
And now there’s Charlie Countryman, a modestly ambitious psychological thriller with a romantic streak.
Not a “safe” star vehicle in the mix. So give the kid some credit for guts and ambition.
Charlie (LaBeouf) is on hand to watch as his mother (Melissa Leo) is taken off life support in the hospital. But she’s not done teaching him.
“Go to … Bucharest.”
Is she sure? He isn’t. Nor is anybody else.
“You don’t mean Budapest?” becomes a running gag in the movie.
The Hungarian capital is cute, touristy. The Romanian capital Bucharest, as Charlie quickly learns, is something else. On the flight over, he meets a charming old Romanian Cubs fan who jokes with him, dozes off, and dies. He, too, communicates with Charlie post mortem. Give this hat to my daughter, tell her this phrase in Romanian.
When he does, Charlie is tased, arrested and hassled. Even if that daughter, Gabi (Evan Rachel Wood), is worth the trouble, this is the other side of Romania – thuggish, confrontational, callous. The shady men who know Gabi (Mads Mikkelsen, Til Schweiger) are menacing in the extreme.
On the other hand, Charlie meets the amusing Brit stoners (James Buckley, Rupert Grint) who are all about popping pills and voting on what “shared hallucinations” they all should have in this Eastern Bloc Sin City.
Director Fredrik Bond, a music video vet, ably shows off the seamy side of Bucharest. But the script is too reliant on coincidences and showing the insane lengths Charlie goes to in order to prove how smitten he is with the beguiling Gabi.
LaBeouf is less manic and boyish here, giving a performance stripped of the smart kid patter of much of his work. He does less with more, even as he’s taking ferocious beatings.
Wood, slinging an accent, is well-cast in any role that demands jet-black eye makeup and a wounded scowl.
The bad guys really stand out, with Mikkelsen pulling off something he never managed as a Bond villain. He’s genuinely frightening.
Charlie Countryman is not a graceful movie, with hints of characters trimmed down, themes launched (talking to ghosts, for instance) and abandoned.
But it works well enough. And it’s a fascinating shot in the dark for a star who is making interesting choices with his stardom, and going to exotic places as he does.