Charlie the Ox (2004) Poster

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10/10
Polito is perfect...
pgeorgefan21 September 2004
I saw this one at a festival and loved it, particularly because of Jon Polito's performance which in my opinion is Oscar-worthy for a Best Supporting role. No other actor works as hard to steal scenes in a movie! All you have to do is rent any Coen Brothers movie to know that. From the minute he appears in "Charlie the Ox" he is mesmerizing and the audience I saw it with responded immediately at the moment he came on the screen. Somebody said he is the only person who could have pulled off that part and I have to agree. After the festival screening, the director told stories about working with him and said Polito was a consummate professional who showed up extremely well-prepared and was in charge from the second the cameras rolled. If you like any of his other work, you'll probably love this one. Don't miss it!
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9/10
Double-crossings require you to think fast
I must attend nearly two dozen festivals each year, and see close to 150 independent films, and this movie isn't the typical flick that gets programmed at fests. So, pleasantly, I was caught off guard by it. In spite of its slower pacing, it really charms the viewer into accepting its people and its premise. I expected this to be a non-stop action/suspense film with twists and turns at every corner. What I experienced was a plodding, insightful drama about a man torn between what he was dreams of doing and what he was knows is wrong.

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.

9/10 rating.

-George Blackburn
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10/10
Indie safecracker film has the right combination
biggs623 September 2004
Smart script and great acting make this modest caper a watchable entry in the genre. Low-budget production doesn't really hurt the story; there is very little sex or violence, but strong characterizations and a tinge of urbane humor makes up for the scant action and lack of explosions or stunts. Film picks up steam upon the appearance of Polito, and rolls on to a swift conclusion. Highlights are the tight editing, superb writing, strong performances. Introduction of supporting players are handled well, particularly the first scene with the young girl. Memorable moments include Polito's soliloquy and a clever scene with a dog. (Rating: 9.5)
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10/10
Marvelous caper that deserves repeated viewings.
cinecarl8 October 2004
This may be the most impressive film I saw at Telluride. While most of the other festival-goers were busy rifling through their programs looking for the latest celebrity appearance, this little movie snuck up on everyone else. Due to its adherence to genre, it's likely to be under-appreciated by the casual viewer, but there is a distinct knowingness that elevates this film beyond the typical festival fare.

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.
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10/10
Thinking man's caper
hymerrin21 September 2004
Better pay attention when watching this one. Not your average dull little crime drama; it's got a clever way of setting up seemingly expected situations and then throwing you a curve or two. I won't give away the twists and turns, but let's just say there are plenty of them. This movie reminded me of the great payback thrillers of the 70s, like Point Black and Charley Varrick, because it is so character-driven. There's a cat-and-mouse contest going on between the main baddie (played by a thoroughly convincing actor I've never seen before) and the title character. Solid acting all around, a sly cameo by Polito, nice touches of dialogue, some technical aspects of safecracking, femme fatales, and little hints that all culminate to make the second half of the movie truly pay off. Without ruining the ending, I'll only say that it was both satisfying and perfectly fitting to Charlie's nature. You can try to guess ahead all you want in this film and you still don't see the surprises coming. Why doesn't Hollywood make smart movies like this anymore?!
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10/10
Excellent writing, clever plot.
MIGBARKER21 September 2004
One of my favorite genres is the caper film, and while I wouldn't categorize this one as a strict comedy (because there is so much suspense in it), there's a unique tone to it that can best be classified as dark humor. The script is so well structured and the story is tightly crafted. Each of the players in this story has their light bulb on, and that makes for a fun ride, watching everyone move and counter-move to avoid getting scammed. I got caught off-guard by the opening con (when Polito enters the film) and had to run earlier scenes through my mind again to catch up quickly. But that's when the movie got really interesting for me. Someone should consider tapping McAbee for bigger, better roles, because he is so consistently natural and believable in this part. I wish they would make a follow-up to this little gem, because the character of Charlie the Ox is so engaging that days later I found myself wanting to know what became of him.
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10/10
my kind of movie...
knuckles_50921 September 2004
this is one of those times when I can recommend a movie without hesitation, because I saw it with a full house and was busting up the whole way through. The main guy Charlie is this patient safecracker who just waits for a perfect opportunity and then strikes when the iron is hot. He's played by Cory McAbee, who was in The American Astronaut, but this time plays his part is a guy who you think is stupid but turns out not to be stupid at all. He's just observing things and scoping out the best possible scenario before making his move. There's some cool scenes which I shouldn't spoil for you, but I will say that the music is cool and there are tons of funny lines in it, and oh yeah, the black chick is unbelievably H-O-T - definitely both thumbs for this one.
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9/10
Rather surprised by this little film...
filmthumper7 May 2005
Saw this in the Village on closing day of the NY Independent Festival, and walking out of the theater I had to remark to a friend how surprisingly accomplished it was for a no-budget, no-name genre entry. The caper dashes quickly along and the lines are often stinging - it gave me the feeling of an older B movie, the kind you used to see on late-night TV. Polito isn't in the film nearly enough, but the few sparkling moments are perhaps his brightest since Miller's Crossing. The lead actor Cory McAbee is oddly interesting and pulls the plot along through a strange magnetism - not a pretty face, but one worth watching. There are blemishes here and there, but considering the dearth of indie "films" out there, taken soooo seriously, this sleeper is the one that deserves a look. How far this film goes is hard to say, but if it appears on DVD its likely to please a few filmlovers who stumble upon it, because it really hearkens back to days when filmmakers took care to craft a story well.
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9/10
Superb casting - recommended
J G (garamendi14)13 March 2005
Everyone is excellent in this non-stop indie. McAbee plays it taunt as a sketchy burglar, who strings along a C-list of incompetents to exact his revenge plot. Every actor is almost pitch perfect for the parts they play and the movie was very enjoyable overall. Newcomer Kane is suitably menacing as Stempel, and in my mind, this is as much his movie as McAbee's. Mr. Polito has to be one of my favorite actors working today, and his small scenes are laced with a slow leaking tension that literally comes around later in the film when a tea kettle starts its long wail. Throughout, there's a cloud of impending doom - sometimes it's real suspense, other times it's more like melancholy. But this festival film has to be one of the best 'don't tread on me' type movies in the last few years. Strong performances. Big laughs. Great quotable lines. Real moments of suspense. Some foul language. But HIGHLY recommended.

My Grade: A

Where I saw it: Cinequest
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10/10
Romance among thieves!
This is a quaint little comedy and a poetic film for its kind. No real belly laughs, but light and humorous and entertaining and sweet throughout with plenty of interesting relationships between the characters. McAbee plays the main role like he has over- medicated himself, because he's drifting along in his own fantasy and surrounded by a bizarre group of supporting players. This is a much more engaging role than his last effort, American Astronaut. Here, he is truly a complex and conflicted crook, unable to conduct himself with any real larceny, so he seeks to outfox his foes with deserved trickery. While he never gets enough time to fall in love with a beautiful waitress named Teesha (Jahnika Blythe) they do have a unique courtship ritual that culminates in an unusual bond. The most hilarious part of the movie is when they meet. It was the point in the movie when I realized I was in a theater; if I was home, I probably would have been tempted to rewind my DVD player and watch it again a few times. And that is the overall tone of this piece - romantic and bittersweet.
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