Charlie the Ox (2004)
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Though the film does in fact have twists, I could have dealt with less characters and their motivations, even though I was down with the tempo of the picture. Not to say I have a limited attention span or that I don't like to be challenged while I watch films - on the contrary, I love the chance to think - but a little exposition goes a long way and this film has a little too much. More action was needed to fill the screen time with less talk. I suppose some of the limitations were based on their B-budget, in which case I applaud them for reaching out (and attaining) a more meaningful drama. This is one of those crime stories where the conscience weighs down the thief more than the stolen goods do.
Generally, the performances were stellar. They could have cut the clues down and gotten to the real double-crosser without creating false suspicions and I would have been just as entertained. Instead, I was constantly wondering who would be the turncoat and that can get annoying. The writing is sharp and the language is fun to hear. One fault of this film is the background noise throughout. It really made it difficult to understand what the actors were saying sometimes, so for those out there who are interested in seeing this, I suggest you wait for the DVD and watch it with subtitles on.
Overall, a good film, with a few more touches it could have been great.
Right from the beginning, with the lengthy single shot that pulls back and brings us into the story, it's clear that atmosphere and tone will play a big part of the telling. Charlie sits holding a hand of cards among a grubby circle of poker players -IN AN EMPTY PUBLIC RESTROOM! The movie is filled with these surprises. It takes a few moments to realize these nuances because this film isn't hitting you over the head with every detail, or slowing down for sweeping panoramas. In fact, it's a bit claustrophobic really. I was also pleasantly surprised that the technical parts of the film were so aptly constructed. There's hardly a cut-away to a close-up in the entire film, none of those awkward moments at the ends of a scene, just straightforward cuts to the next dramatic point and this keeps the tempo brisk and assured.
It's not strictly a thriller, a film noir, a comedy, or a heist film per se. The title character is a safe cracker who doesn't have his heart into the job -or seems to struggle with the moral issues in his line of work- and prefers to keep a hands off approach to stealing. He's scolded for this by his mentor, an elderly blind man who used to crack safes and now has turned over the business to Charlie.
Frankly, it seems that everyone knows what Charlie does and that he isn't very good at it. So by this standard, the lead isn't really a typical hero and the movie isn't really a grist-of-the-mill crime caper. But it is a riveting good time.
What was really an amazing achievement is that the events and characters really suck you into the story until you forget you're watching a bunch of new faces. I hadn't seen any of these actors before, and it never occurred to me that they were all making their debut. You just couldn't tell, they were so confident and believable.
Being an avid film buff, and wanting to see this film again right away, I was disappointed that I was at a festival and would have to wait to catch it in the theaters or on video. By no means is it the kind of film that can be completely soaked in by a single viewing, and in my opinion, this is one of the tests of a great film. There's just so much going on in the way the camera angles restrict the viewing of certain characters, and the repetition of key phrases, that makes we wish I could pause and rewind to see everything again. It amazed me that the tempo and the image clarity was so professional and that the final line is one of the most graceful notes I have ever seen a movie go out on. 5 stars out of 5.
My Grade: A
Where I saw it: Cinequest