The Death And Life Of Charlie St Cloud

The Death And Life Of Charlie St Cloud


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Charlie St. Cloud lives with his mother and his 11 year old brother Sam. His father walked out on the family years ago and they're struggling financially. We're told this early on as if in apology for all the other advantages Charlie enjoys - he's young, fit, good looking, an award winning sailor, looking forward to a Harvard scholarship - one of those all-American heroes whose life seems so easy that he has to be given a token problem in order to imbue him with some personality. But Charlie's easy-going life is in fact about to change for the worse. When a car accident kills Sam, he is overwhelmed with grief. He also finds that his own near death experience has enabled him to keep on seeing his brother, whom he promises to meet every day at sunset. The problem is, five years later, Sam's ghost is still 11, still dependent, and Charlie is trapped, unable to get on with his life.

Critics have accused this film of ripping off The Sixth Sense, but that feels a little unfair, given that M Night Shyamalan hardly invented the ghost story and the twists in this film are not that simple. It seems fair to take a similar idea and do something different with it. An extra dimension is added through the casting of Kim Basinger, sadly present only in a cameo, as the boys' mother - given that she played the mother of two boys killed in a car crash, unable to move on from her grief, in John Irving adaptation The Door In The Floor. It suggests that there are multiple realities at work here, a notion essential to the film's shifting mood. As Charlie, Zac Efron doesn't really face many challenges, but he acquits himself quite adequately, showing that he may indeed be able to make the transition from teen heartthrob to serious actor. Charlie Tahan, playing Sam, is just the kind of sharp-featured, sullen kid crying out for a role in a John Irving story, and his edginess is vital to balancing out the sentimentality inherent in the story.

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This is not altogether successful. The film is far too heavy-handed in places, especially towards the end, squandering the emotional impact provided by its early ambiguity. Its exploration of grief and the struggle to let go of those we lose, more fraught when Charlie meets a girl who reminds him of his former appetite for life, is also stronger when more subtly presented. Be careful you don't choke on the expanded metaphors. What's more, one can't help but feel that if one has to be trapped by one's past, being trapped in a beautiful seaside town where one is still capable of holding down a job and living comfortably really isn't so bad. Yet at the core of all this is a story that still has genuine emotive power. This is aided by less exploitative subplots. The devotion of Charlie's best friend, who has clearly been aware of his strange behaviour for months, represents a different kind of heroism.

Beyond this, the film suffers from that disregard for realism that often plagues fantasy films, where in fact it is all the more important. The medic who saved Charlie's life remembers him years later and calls his recovery a miracle. In light of the frequency of flatliners in real life, this seems absurd, and it exposes another weakness in the central idea - are we to assume they can all see dead people? The way experienced sailors behave in the water also stretches credulity - don't try this at home, folks. Ultimately, The Death And Life Of Charlie St Cloud is not a film that bears too much rational analysis, but it's enjoyable viewing if you're ready to sit back and let it wash over you. The sumptuous cinematography really makes the most of the great locations and occasional action scenes are well handled. There are also quite a few shirtless scenes to please Efron's fans, whilst interestingly, the film largely refrains from objectifying its heroine. It's a highly polished, elegantly produced piece of work that could have scored much more highly if only it had also had a tougher script editor.

Reviewed on: 05 Oct 2010
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After the death of his little brother, Charlie is unable to let go, especially as his own near-death experience has forged a fresh link between them.
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Director: Burr Steers

Writer: Craig Pearce, Lewis Colick

Starring: Zac Efron, Amanda Crew, Charlie Tahan, Augustus Prew, Kim Basinger, Ray Liotta

Year: 2010

Runtime: 99 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US, Canada


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The Sixth Sense