Charlie St. Cloud

2010-10-25 14:49
 
Charlie St. Cloud
 
What it's about:

Charlie St. Cloud (played by Zac Efron), a popular young sailing enthusiast and baseball player in a small seaside town, faces a very promising future as he is mere weeks away from heading off to the prestigious Standford University when his whole life is ripped apart by a car accident that ends the life of his younger brother. Left with both the grief of losing his brother and a tremendous sense of survivor's guilt, Charlie is left to pick up the pieces of his broken life. Aided by visions of his deceased brother and a blossoming romance with a beautiful young sailor Tess (Amanda Crew) Charlie is forced to come to terms with his future.     

What we thought:

There's a moment in the middle of Charlie St. Cloud where the paranormal aspects that are only hinted at earlier in the film, are made very much explicit. There's no doubt that it is this exact moment that will split audiences more than anything else about the film – yes, even the casting of Zac Efron in the lead role. I know this. Not only because of the extreme reactions to the film by both critics and general audiences, but I wasn't certain of what I thought of it until weeks after I'd seen the movie.

Charlie St. Cloud is a film that is very much infused with religious subtext and, while I suppose that might put off some viewers, I actually think that religion and storytelling make for great, not-so-strange bedfellows (atheists, to your battle stations, if you please). Dark fantasy alone is forever indebted to Christianity for the story of Lucifer, a concept and character that the authors, artists and directors of this genre have mined time and time again, regardless of their personal beliefs. I am also a great defender of the Hughes Brothers' apocalyptic The Book of Eli and its blatantly Christian trappings, despite not being remotely of that faith.

The movie belongs less to a specific religion but its themes of redemption, faith and even divine providence are writ large throughout. I'm sure this will turn off the more militantly cynical and I'm sure that more close minded atheists will scoff throughout but I thought it was handled without the dogmatic preachiness that might have ruined it. "Cynicism" might be a four-letter word for this film but thanks to director Burr Steers' previous experience with much darker material in the blackly comic and vastly under-appreciated Igby Goes Down, he demonstrably understands that "spiritually inclined" does not have to bring with it sickly sweet, vomit inducing, sanctimony.

Indeed, I found the film's handling of issues of faith and loss so beautifully handled in its earlier stages that I feel betrayed by the moment when its religious undertone does become explicitly supernatural. The later parts of the film are certainly handled well enough but there's a feeling that it could have achieved much the same result but with dollops more ambiguity and subtlety and that its spirituality worked far better when confined to a sub textual level.

It is worth mentioning though that this is actually the only real problem I have with the film. Even with what is basically a cop-out of a twist, I was very much taken by Charlie St. Cloud. Steers – along with screenwriters Craig Pearce and Lewis Colick - have done a masterful job of bringing out the very human, moving and, yup, spiritual elements of the story to life without ever really descending into crass and cliche-ridden sentimentality.
 
They are also helped considerably by two of the acting talents involved in the film. Charlie Tahan as the deceased but ever-present brother is a solid newcomer and Kim Basinger and Ray Liotta do well with their supporting roles but the film belongs to Zac Efron and Amanda Crew.

That's right, haters, Zac Efron is really rather good in this. I haven't seen the High School Musical films so that might explain why I never had a problem with the guy. Here he is an engaging and likeable screen presence and his humble, understated delivery is crucial in keeping the film from ever becoming overbearing.

Just as good is Amanda Crew, in her breakthrough role, is not only very easy on the eyes but imbues her part with vulnerability, a spunky, lively presence and easygoing charm. She reminds me somewhat of Molly Ringwald, and I could easily see her doing just as brilliantly in those 80s John Hughes movies on which Miss Ringwald made her name.

Charlie St. Cloud obviously won't be for everybody but if you are inclined at all towards a beautifully shot (the coastal sea town that serves as the setting for the film is very camera-friendly), quietly resonant and wholly cynicism-free bit of small, unassuming filmmaking, you can do far, far worse than this.

Zac Efron gets dramatic in a potentially divisive movie that’s part spiritual meditation, part supernatural mystery.
Read more on:    zac efron  |  christianity  |  car accident  |  grief  |  drama

James 2010/10/22 11:51 AM
I would rather have my finger nails pulled, than go see this movie.
Pop Idol 2010/10/24 8:51 PM
Boring movie and so very predictable.I wouldnt recommend anyone to watch it.
Pop Idol 2010/10/24 8:51 PM
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Boring movie and so very predictable.I wouldnt recommend anyone to watch it.
DARREN DEARLING 2010/10/26 2:11 PM
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I WOULD RATHER HAVE A BOTTLE OF WINE WITH MY HUBBY.
Darren Dearling 2010/10/26 2:16 PM
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i would rather have my finger nails pulled,than go see this movie.
Darren Dearling 2010/10/26 2:16 PM
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i would rather have my finger nails pulled,than go see this movie.
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