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Zack Mosley [Film Festival 10.15.12] Canada drama crime

Charlie Zone is a true Nova Scotia original.

Avery (Glen Gould) is a washed up First Nations boxer from the mean streets of Halifax, now accepting pocket change to bare-knuckle brawl for It is through this website that he comes to the attention of a wealthy couple who are looking for their runaway daughter Jan (Amanda Crew). Once a child with a promising future, Jan is now a junkie who has fallen in with criminals and lowlifes. Avery is hired to extract Jan from a smack den, but the exchange goes awry, and soon Avery and Jan are on the run for their lives. Cue double crosses, triple crosses, and right crosses.

Director Michael Melski expressed a desire to capture the gritty side of Canada's other big port city when he spoke at the screening. Halifax surprisingly boasts Canada's second highest murder rate and first highest rate of gun violence per capita. Like Vancouver, Halifax also has major problems with drugs, human trafficking, poverty, and the marginalization of First Nations people. Unfortunately, Charlie Zone attempts to grind all of these axes at once, and the themes are sometimes muddled as a result. Melski jam-packs a bit too much social commentary into what is essentially an exploitation film premise, making it a much more serious affair than, say, Hobo With a Shotgun (review). The film is earnest in its message(s) and sober in its tone, so don't go in expecting Death Wish 3 or Vigilante. But don't go in expecting a focused and high-minded take on the human trafficking issue a la The Whistleblower or Lilya 4-Ever either. Charlie Zone occupies an awkward middle ground between genre exploitation and serious drama that will mostly be appreciated by aficionados of trashy Canadian cinema.

Charlie Zone is dense with odd narrative choices. Some work, some don't. To start with, the personal connection between Avery and Jan seems forced. Usually in a movie like this, the vigilante badass has some sort of direct personal relationship with the person he is trying to save/avenge. In Taken they took Liam Neeson's daughter, in the first Death Wish they raped and killed Charles Bronson's wife and daughter, etc. Even Hobo With a Shotgun in all its zaniness has Rutger Hauer on a selfless quest of his own volition to rescue Molly Dunsworth from prostitution. Avery is just doing this for a paycheque (only $50,000 to risk life and limb), and considering the duplicitous motivations of his employers, it doesn't really seem worth it. A cleaner, simpler set-up would have worked wonders here, but instead we're led to believe that important people would entrust an important task to a guy they found on a fictionalized version of Bumfights.

Jan is introduced as a racist junkie bitch, and the first impression never quite wears off. Avery actually warmed up to her before I did. Following her abduction from the smack den, Jan's drug dealer boyfriend and his right-hand man set out to find her. I cannot begin to describe the tempestuous emotions involved in this pursuit. The drug dealer is utterly incapacitated by his love for his woman while the right-hand man immediately gets all butthurt about the business being neglected. Tears are shed. You get the sense that these guys are about to kiss at any moment. There's another crew of bad guys on Jan's trail that comes out of nowhere halfway through the movie to torture our hero. They have nothing to do with the main plot and only stumble into it through sheer happenstance, to provide random unmotivated conflict. The twists and turns are not always germane to the story, sometimes they feel as if they're concessions to the thriller plot point checklist or platforms to shoehorn more social commentary into the proceedings.

All of this said, there is a certain crude charm to Charlie Zone. It is at least sincere and straightforward in its intentions, some much needed counterprogramming on the last day of a film festival thick with pretentiousness and ambiguity. Much of the film plays out like a DTV-action/thriller or a middling TV movie, so gauge your interest accordingly. Glen Gould is actually quite capable as our Bronsonesque brawler, apparently his first lead role in a feature film after a career's worth of supporting characters. He is particularly effective in a scene where he reunited with his grandfather on the reservation, letting his gruff persona slip ever so slightly as he is confronted with his responsibility to his family and his people. The rest of the cast doesn't fare as well, but I won't name names. Overall, Charlie Zone has heart, and that's more than I can say for a lot of movies. If anything here sounds appealing, and your expectations are low enough, chances are Charlie Zone might be in your zone.

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