There has been a lot in the news about outsourcing and how it removing jobs from our shores. There is at least one aspect of this that has been beneficial to at least one segment of the population; film and television audiences. A significant portion of our entertainment has been originating from north of our borders, Canada. A quick glance at IMDB will reveal that an increasing number of actors, writers and directors come from our friendly neighbors to the north. The bottom line of this is the quality of these TV shows and movies rival, and in many instances, surpass what is produced down here. Wait around for the end of the credits of something you jest watched and enjoyed and with increasing chances, display a flag with a maple leaf prominently displayed. A recent example can be found with the film examined here, ‘Charlie Zone’. As is the case with a number of independent films I receive for review I had not heard much about this one so my interest was understandably piqued. After my initial viewing I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised and impressed with the Canadian perchance for supporting independent filmmakers.
Avery Paul (Glen Gould) is a man who has lived his life getting by on the brute force he could deliver with his fists. He also manifested a propensity to slip off the road to righteousness resulting in an inordinate number of mishaps with establishments residing on both sides of the law. This dubious past severely restricted his opportunities for gainful employment so when the legitimate boxing venue became untenable he resorted to underground fight clubs where he was recorded for broadcast on the seedier part of the internet. The filmmaker, Michael Melski demonstrates an amazing economy introducing the true nature of this man showing the audience the sheer unbridled callousness that defines this man. He is animalistic; able to stand and take a beating only to reciprocate many times over. An opponent facing Paul had better have the means to afford a lengthy hospital stay.
Paul’s violent and unsavory reputation has gone beyond the devotees of fight club video fans to mainstream folks, albeit in a different context. Conventionally well off woman (Mauralea Austin) and her husband (John Awoods); want to secure Paul’s services for a peculiar and exceptionally dangerous mission. Their daughter Jan (Amanda Crew) has gone astray, as the old saying would express it and has run away. In a typical movie fashion that regrettably represents a dismal reality, Jan is now addicted to heroin and falling in with the dregs of society even adjusting for the junkie milieu. The distraught parents want their daughter back by any means necessary. The authorities are far too overburdened to devote resource to one case indistinguishable among millions so in utter desperation the forced to turn to this street thug for help. To rescue their daughter from low lives they need to send in the meanest low life they could find, Avery Paul.
Mr. Melski does not make it easy for himself with how he begins to unfold the character development. It is one thing to have the leading man in a movie like this to be unlikeable particularly at the onset of the action. It sets up his character as tough, mean and up to the challenge. Melski takes this one step further by making the damsel in distress a spiteful, self-centered person devoid of any redeeming characteristics. Upping the degree of difficulty she is portrayed as an unrelenting racist making it nearly impossible to care much about whether she is recued or not, in fact the first impression is the parents are well to be free of her interminable spiteful persona. Melski demonstrate a quality rare among relatively new filmmakers, the willingness to take a chance stretching his abilities to sharpen them. This is a quality I greatly admire especially with independent filmmakers.
There are a few standard tropes employed to further the story and expand the development of the archetypes that populate it. At its core this is a mercenary man on a mission movie with Paul confident that things might get rough but nothing he can’t handle. Layered on top of this is a variation of the coming of age story. Jan has rebelled against her family in an excessive form of teen angst and got in way over her head. She has to learn to grow, at least to some extent, if she is going to survive. To this end there is a modicum of a bond that sparks between this unpleasant girl and her street toughen savior. In order to progress the story has to instill a sense on imminent danger, what is often described as the Sword of Damocles. This is very well developed here by infusing a predicable element into the mix; the irate, irrational boyfriend, one of the many drug dealers in the rundown neighborhood commonly called ‘The Charlie Zone. Accompanying him is the ever popular unpredictable henchman. They are determined to retrieve the girl and ant not deterred by the prospect of deadly force. Mr. Melski and his co-author (Joseph LeClair) take these standard, very familiar ingredients and ignite something very special in them. Like an expert chef can take mundane items and create something special these men have crafted a story that starts you out think it will be like something we’ve seen many times before but then subtly take a turn into something quite exciting fully capable of holding your interest.
From the perspective of the screenplay the story move along at a good clip; starting with action that simultaneously introduces the viscous nature of the protagonist and sets the audience up for the escalation of the action to follow, to that end a wild card is introduced inserting another desirable aspect to the proceedings; undeserved misfortune. As if a vindictive drug dealer and his lackey hot in pursuit wasn’t sufficient they add a mysterious secondary collection of miscreants with an inclination for torture, or extreme integration only in this instance questioning was not the motivation. In presenting this story the writers depend on well construct scrip with strongly dramatic dialogue eschewing the usual banter of one liner bon mots so common in action based thrillers of late. Then there is the directorial style used by Melski. It is thankfully straightforward avoiding the pitfall that haunts many directors during the early portion of their careers; packing the work with as many cameras and lighting techniques as possible in hopes that something will work. Melski obviously had a strong vision going into this film of how he wanted it to proceed. To achieve this he successful depended on his strengths as a story teller translating to the screen effectively. The action is used to punctuate the story’s emotional content rather than as the only driving force. These factors set this film above the pack of mindless action thrillers giving us a story worth paying attention to and enjoying.