Review by Daniel Lima
If there is a word to sum up Fast Charlie at first glance, it’s “inauspicious.” A journeyman director whose best years are long in the rearview; a screenwriter whose name is on such dire films as the Equalizer series and The Expendables 2; a host of producers responsible for some bottom-of-the-barrel DTV junk. By all means, this looks like a money laundering operation that happened to get enough cash together to nab a couple of big-name stars looking for an easy paycheck. What a shock to find a fun crime thriller full of charm and heart.
Pierce Brosnan plays the titular character, a fixture in the underworld of the Mississippi Delta. When an upstart gangster from New Orleans attacks his crime family, he goes on a quest for vengeance, teaming up with a taxidermist looking to leave her past behind her. In pursuit of their quarry, they reflect on the lives they’ve led thus far and how they want to spend the time they have left.
On the surface, this is indistinguishable from any number of low-budget thrillers with aging leading men front and center. The film follows the conventions of this ignoble genre to a T, from narrative beats to character archetypes to lines of dialogue. It is competently shot but lacks any interesting or unique visual flourishes. There’s nothing here that could be called remarkable.
Very quickly, however, Fast Charlie proves to be a cut above its would-be peers. There is a depth to the world these characters move through that seems to extend beyond the frame of the film, a sense of shared history that makes meeting every new face exciting. Those faces live up to that expectation, brought to life by an ensemble that makes the most of what could be a series of one-note caricatures (this would have been a fine send-off role for the great James Caan). The darkly comic vein running throughout, befitting a story where everyone leads such dangerous lives, goes a long way in preventing a descent into drudgery. In a word, this is fun.
The biggest assets are Brosnan and co-star Morena Baccarin. Both bring bona fide movie star turns to rote material, capturing a sense of deep regret and hopelessness in their characters. While their romance feels every bit as forced as their accents, the hope that they inspire in each other feels genuine, and by the time the film catches up to the in medias res opening, it’s impossible not to feel invested in them, predictable or not.
Does Fast Charlie reinvent the wheel? Is it a seminal work in the genre? Will anyone remember watching it a year after doing so? The answers to these questions are no, no, and probably not. Is it a surprisingly enjoyable time? Does that make it better than most of its contemporaries by default? Did I log onto my library account and check out Gun Monkeys, the novel it is based on, immediately after finishing it? Absolutely.
Fast Charlie is available in theaters and on demand December 8.