Stepping away from the genre that made him famous, Zac Efron decided not to do another movie connected to musicals or dancing. So he turned down the main role in the “Footloose” remake to do something new and different. “Charlie St. Cloud” — based off the 2004 best-seller “The Death and life of Charlie St. Cloud” by Ben Sherwood — is the role that he chose to be his dramatic breakout.
Charlie St. Cloud (Zac Efron) is a local wonder boy in the port town of Quincy Harbor, Wash. About to graduate high school, he is the best competitive sailor and has earned a scholarship to Stanford for his excellence in sailing. Charlie lives at home with his mother Claire (Kim Basinger) and his younger brother Sam (Charlie Tahan), and his mother has to work two jobs to provide for them. The two brothers are very close, because their father left a few years back, and Charlie has stepped in as the father figure and mentor to Sam. Sam wants to play baseball — he is obsessed with the Boston Red Sox — so Charlie decides to coach him. They make a deal that they will practice for one hour, every night at sunset, until Charlie leaves for college. One night while watching his younger brother, Charlie is on his way to drop him off at a friend’s house and there is an accident, both boys die, but Charlie is able to be resuscitated.
Five years pass and we find out that Charlie, plagued by guilt and unable to move on, has given up his scholarship, stopped sailing and basically withdrawn from life. Now the grounds keeper at the cemetery where his brother is buried, we find out he has stayed in this town because every night at sunset he goes out into the woods behind the cemetery where he meets with his deceased little brother and they play catch. This has been going on ever since his brother’s passing and he has told no one about it. Now seen as the town weirdo, people talk about how he gave everything up and now lives in the cemetery and keeps to himself. Finally convinced by his only friend Alistair (Augustus Prew), Charlie decides to go out for drinks with friends. At the bar, he locks eyes with a local girl who is also a sailor, Tess (Amanda Crew), and there is an instant connection. Tess, who is intrigued by Charlie, runs into him again and they start to talk. As their friendship grows, Tess invites him to join her on a six-month sailing expedition, but as their relationship blossoms his connection to his brother starts to dwindle. When Tess goes missing out at sea, he has to choose between staying for his nightly game with his brother or going to look for her. But if he misses a night, will his brother still be around?
Directed by Burr Steers, who directed “17 Again” also starring Efron, you might think that Steers choose Efron because he has worked with him in the past, but it’s actually the opposite of that. Efron got a copy of the script and really connected to the main character Charlie and the relationship between him and the younger brother Sam. Efron, who is very close to his real life younger brother Dylan, really saw what the movie was about and brought the script to the attention of Burr Steers and then they started the process of casting and then making the movie.
Going into this movie, I knew what it was going to be about and that it was a dramatic story with some supernatural elements to it. I also knew that the demographic this movie is shooting for is fans of the book and fans of Zac Efron. I am really neither of those, but I wanted to see it because when I saw the trailer I felt the emotions behind it. I haven’t read the book but I read up on it and from what I can tell they tried to stick as close to it as they possibly could, the location was changed and so were the origins of a few relationships, but overall they seemingly did a good job of conveying the story and essence of the book.
This movie relies heavily upon Efron’s performance and he did a decent job with the dramatic parts as well as being believable as a great sailor, and a grief-stricken big brother. You can really see that he pulled from his personal experience with his own younger brother Dylan to help make the relationship believable. We get to see Zac do some great scenes. There is one of him and Sam playing in the rain which reminded me of my youthful summer days on the “Slip and Slide.”
Another positive in this movie is the camera work and scenery. The forest where he meets Sam every night has a mystical quality to it. It reminds me of Neverland from “Peter Pan,” which I took as a great metaphor in which Sam will never grow up and Charlie also had a standstill in his life, an agelessness. The imagery used in the ocean scenes, the beautiful port town, and also the forest were a great addition to the story. There are also a few twists in the storyline that help make the story more than one dimensional, but any avid movie-goer or fan of Nicolas Sparks might be able to guess them before they happen.
Now, one of the downfalls of this movie is its rushed pace to push the story forward. You don’t get to see the characters fully develop and the relationship between Charlie and Tess goes from strangers to in love in less than 20 minutes. Problem No. 2 is that they have some great actors in the film, but they are scarcely seen. Kim Basinger, who is barely established as the mom, is then missing from the remainder of the film. Also, Ray Liotta plays the paramedic Florio who revives Charlie and then bumps into him later in the story; he is only in two scenes. When he meets Charlie again later he introduces the idea that Charlie was saved for a reason, he even says “God doesn’t just do miracles like bringing you back to life for no reason. What is your purpose for being here?” This is the catalyst in Charlie’s mind about his circumstances that helps him start the process of moving forward and is basically the beginning in his characters mental and emotional arc. Charlie’s co-worker and friend Alistair is the much needed comedy relief in this film; he is always making jokes in all of the scenes that he is in and could have been used more as well.
One of the final problems with this film is its supernatural element, channeling movies like “Ghost” or “The Sixth Sense” I have no problem with the fact that Charlie sees his dead brother. We as the audience never really are told whether he really “Sees dead people” or if it is all in his mind. I choose to believe that he really has this gift; there are reasons you will find out later in the story that point to this. My own personal opinion is that he died and was then brought back to life, he “touched” the other side. This, plus the deep connection to his brother makes it seem possible. This movie has some really touching moments and some really sad moments; overall I think it did convey the messages from the book about loss, guilt, a higher purpose, love and letting go.
So I didn’t love or hate the film, it was just alright, but if you are a fan of the book or Zac Efron or emotionally-driven movies, stories about loss and love, this is the movie for you. Just don’t expect to be blown away or surprised that much, this movie follows a pretty typical Hollywood formula with a few interesting aspects thrown in.
“Charlie St. Cloud” is in theaters now, rated PG-13 for language, sexual references, an intense accident scene and sexuality.
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