CHARLIE ST CLOUD. Starring Zac Efron, Kim Basinger and Amanda Crew. Directed by Burr Steers. Rated M (Mature themes). 99 minutes.
Based on a novel, The Death and Life of Charlie St Cloud, the film takes its themes from the book’s title. It is about death and life after death – that is, life after death here on earth. It is a pleasing film, especially if one is open to some of the more transcendent aspects of life and the purpose of life and individual calling. (I don’t think Charlie St Cloud will be high on the list of films to be screened at a Sceptics Convention.)
Zac Efron is Charlie. After proving an irrestistible heartthrob to teenage girls in the High School Musical series, he has proven that he is also a capable actor in Hairspray, 18 Again and Me and Orson Welles.
Charlie and his little brother, Sam (Charlie Tahan), are very close, sharing skills at sailing and Charlie coaching his brother in baseball. They live with their mother (Kim Basinger) after their father has walked out on them. Then tragedy strikes. A car smash. A medic (who prays to St Jude) is able to resuscitate Charlie but not Sam. Five years pass and Charlie has become something of a recluse, caretaker for the local cemetery and quietly working on boat designs. He had made a promise to Sam that they would have an hour’s baseball coaching every afternoon. Charlie is still faithful to this.
Charlie is not exactly haunted, but he sees the dead, including a high school friend who has been killed in Iraq. Most people think he has not got over his grief and is a bit touched in the head. In a brief, moving encounter, the paramedic who now has terminal cancer, Florio (a non-threatening Ray Liotta in a sympathetic role), persuades Charlie that he has a mission because he came back to life. His widow makes a special visit to Charlie because her husband wanted him to have his St Jude medal.
When he encounters, Tess (Amanda Crews), another high school acquaintance, at the cemetery, angry at the lack of tending of her father’s grave, Charlie is more than attracted. Tess is a sailor and plans to enter an important race. The film develops their relationship and commitment, Tess’s sailing into a storm, Charlie believing that she is not dead, and being compelled to find her.
While there is both charm and warmth in the film and its depiction of selflessness, it is one of those films that you feel is ‘not quite’ what it set out to be and so somewhat diminished in its impact.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out September 23 2010