Technically, Charlie St. Cloud is about a promising young man (Zac Efron), about to leave for Stanford on a sailing scholarship, who is driving his kid brother one night when they are struck by a truck. Charlie flatlines, but is revived by a medic (Ray Liotta). Eleven-year-old Sam (Charlie Tahan) doesn’t make it.
But in reality, Charlie St. Cloud is about Zac Efron’s face. Sometimes his abs, too, but mostly his face. Director Burr Steers shoots him in beautiful, golden light, always in closeup, often for several exquisite moments at a time.
Zac Efron face porn aside, Charlie St. Cloud plays like a particuarly mystical installment of the Nicholas Sparks canon. Five years after Sam’s death, Charlie has deferred the scholarship and is now the caretaker at the graveyard where his brother is buried. He also has kept a promise to play catch with Sam every day at sundown. Oh yeah, and he also sometimes has conversations with a good buddy . . . who died in the Iraq War.
I suppose you could surmise that these dead loved ones are figments of Charlie’s imagination, but the film actually suggests that Charlie’s near death experience allows him to see and communicate with the other side. He’s like the creepy kid from Sixth Sense, if he were also a model in an Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue.
Eventually, there will be a romance with a female sailor (Amanda Crew) and perhaps a life to save, but I don’t want to give it all away. I confess, Charlie St. Cloud had a twist or two I didn’t see coming.
I’ve now seen the enormously likeable Zac Efron in several movies and I still can’t quite decide if I think he’s a real actor. I liked him best in Hairspray, where he gave Link Larkin a crisp, cheesy swagger. And he had his moments in 17 Again, channeling a young Matthew Perry.
In Charlie St. Cloud, he cries a lot and mopes around gorgeously. But he’s supposed to be a wreck of a man and I didn’t buy that he was damaged goods (or a grown man, for that matter). Maybe he needs one of those serious beards that Ryan Gosling grew in The Notebook (can Efron even grow facial hair?). The verdict may still be out on Efron’s talents as a serious actor but one thing’s for sure: The kid gives good face.