Rasty and nasty with a cherry on top, Fast Charlie is a down-home Southern gangster yarn with a staggering body count but a sweet taste awaiting the survivors at the end of the day. This adaptation of Victor Gischler’s 2003 novel Gun Monkeys is an inelegant affair that gushes hot blood all over the place but leaves enough room for an appealingly credible May-December romance to grow in the midst of the constant mayhem. This is James Caan’s final film and it’s one that genre fans should eat up but will do so more at home than in theaters.
Whereas senior movie mafia and gangster characters through the decades have tended to be revered — if only for simply having survived for decades — it nonetheless seems that Charlie Swift (Pierce Brosnan) may not get the respect he deserves from the bad-guy wannabees who populate the bayou country of Louisiana. Young hot-shot punks often think they’re better than anyone, but the fit, gray-haired Charlie knows the score much better than they do and some of the reckless show-offs don’t last very long. The way the first victim bites the dust immediately sets the darkly seriocomic tone for the entire film, and it’s an approach that veteran Australian director Phillip Noyce manages to more or less sustain no matter how gruesome and perverse any given situation may become.
All the same, Charlie does dream of calling it a day and retiring to Italy. Like it or not, though, crime, stealth, ruthlessness and relentlessness have ruled his life and, to twist an adage, how can he be pulled back in if he’s never really been out? The situation is tricky, to say the least, as the husband of bereaved widow Marcie (Morena Baccarin) was killed by — who else? — Charlie.
Stated so plainly, this plot predicament seems pretty preposterous, but virtually everything else in the screenplay by Richard Wenk (the Equalizer and Expendables series, The Magnificent 7 remake, The Mechanic) is equally unlikely and extreme, which puts you in a position to either embrace it as fun or discard it as foolish. What tilts you in the former direction is the energy Noyce injects into the silliness as well as the kick that results from pushing the material so far. The filmmakers look to have gone all out to make something of this and it more or less pays off in its outlandish boisterousness.
Countless murders are committed in this entertainingly unsavory yarn and, some of the time, you have no idea why they’re happening. The filmmakers have so many murder scenes to enact that much of the creative energy here was no doubt devoted to devising clever ways for them to be offed, and the manner in which they’re staged leaves little doubt that the goal was to make them amusing, sometimes grotesquely so; you can almost imagine the filmmakers offering bonuses to cast and crew members who come up with the most zany scenes.
Even though there will never be a shortage of work for old pro Charlie, he finally feels that it’s time to call it a career. But cases, crises and emergencies keep intruding on his plans, a situation further complicated by how his complicity with Baccarin’s intelligent, uncertain, emotionally wounded Marcie might potentially lead to something, even if the age difference is pronounced. It’s an intriguing dilemma that the filmmakers treat carefully, a situation so unlike anything anyone would dream of that it seems wrong to cast judgment on it.
These scenes are nicely written and Brosnan and Baccarin make the most of them, as both of these wounded but smart grown-ups feel their way through the thicket of violence as they try to digest and act upon the complicity that has affected them both. Despite the fundamentally preposterous nature of their situation, the actors invest their performances with a palatable sense of their hopes, desires and uncertainties. The result is a conclusion that seems both wish-fulfilment and not entirely implausible, even if, as Charlie admits, “In my line of work, it’s best not to have any long-term plans.”
Title: Fast Charlie
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment
Festival: Mill Valley Film Festival (Big Nights)
Director: Phillip Noyce
Screenwriter: Richard Wenk
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Morena Baccarin, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Sharon Gless, James Caan
Running time: 1 hr 30 min