Published Feb 28, 2013Canadian director Michael Melski could teach many of his contemporaries south of the border a thing or two about crafting a hardboiled crime thriller that doesn't skimp on character or heart.
His second feature-length film (following the solid family pot dramedy Growing Op) deals with serious issues of identity, honour, addiction and familial obligations without getting too heavy-handed or neglecting the visceral needs of an action-driven thriller.
Television veteran Glen Gould (one N, not the pianist) stars as Avery, a former pro-boxer whose shady past lands him in the underground fight circuit, beating the snot out of punks in playgrounds by night for an unsanctioned web show to make ends meet.
In the opening scene, it's quickly established that this is a man who can take punishment and dish it out twice as hard. His reputation draws the attention of a woman who hires him to rescue a young junky runaway from a local drug den and return her to her family. The mission seems simple enough, at first, but the situation swiftly grows increasingly complex and duplicitous intentions gradually begin to sprout like hydra heads.
What's initially a smartly plotted search and rescue gets shockingly violent and increasingly dark, with scenes of brutal torture and the eventual reveal of a conspiracy that shines a spotlight on the ugly depths of immorality.
Charlie Zone stands apart from its often salacious and exploitive genre peers by humanizing even the most monstrous characters and recognizing that people in debasing situations are still human beings with feelings and motivations, no matter how messed up they might be.
For example: a heroine pusher (Mpho Koaho, Falling Skies) recognizes the unsavoury nature of his occupation, but tries to make the most of a position that would likely be filled by a more dangerous scumbag were he not around. He's simply satisfying the demand for a product while feeding his family and trying to provide a safe environment for people hell-bent on harming themselves.
Even a psychotic biker gang that figures into the elaborate and lethal game features a leader who doesn't want his wife and kids to be disturbed by the sounds of a man being electrocuted in the background while he's making his nightly phone call, along with a fresh prospect who can't stomach the disgusting scene unfolding before him.
The most heinous acts aren't reduced to black or white, but varying shades of gray; it's a mature approach that makes the story's many horrors more difficult to stomach. In its few inspirational moments, the film threatens to err on the side of sweetness, but, like its seedier aspects, Charlie Zone is held in balance by Melski's clear, confident filmmaking and strong performances by Gould, Amanda Crew and Koaho, in particular.
For anyone who appreciates tough-as-nails action and thoughtful character drama in equal measure, this is a film worthy of your attention. (Pacific Northwest Pictures)