Review: GOODNIGHT, CHARLENE
Unpredictability, complexity, and originality are the ingredients for a perfect crime thriller –– and Chris Zuhdi’s first foray into directing cooks them just right. Goodnight, Charlene (2017) immediately pulls you into its universe and makes you hungry for more.
A naive mechanic named Charlie hopes to save money to move him and his wife Charlene from their West Texas border town. Unbeknownst to him, Charlene is having an affair and is actively colluding with a group of corrupt officials so she can leave town herself. Charlene is plotting to have her husband murdered and eventually her schemes are exposed, causing a war within town.
Goodnight, Charlene is certainly a crime thriller, but the label ‘neo-western’ almost seems more appropriate. The narration that opens and closes the film is done in a foreboding drawl that feels very reminiscent of No Country For Old Men. The layers of corruptness in the small Texas town make for a compelling story that’s not too predictable, yet it avoids being overly intricate.
While the plot is centered around Charlene’s deception of her husband and the plot to kill him, each supporting character brings their own unique flavor to the story. The audience is left in suspense down to the last moments of the film, yet each side story is nicely wrapped up –– an ending one craves in a film featuring several intertwining characters stories.
Carl Bailey and Chris Messersmith stood out in their performances as Deputy Masterson and Mr. Flynn, respectively. Overall the film was well cast with a seemingly mixed group of novice and experienced actors, with few instances of dry line deliveries and unnatural body language. But regardless of experience level, each actor was able to embrace the accent and demeanor of the characters within the fictional Texan town.
Oddly enough, Melanie San Millan’s portrayal of the film’s namesake Charlene was the most stiff performance. A lack of strong dialogue and poor on-screen chemistry with her love interest Billy (Daniel Ross Owens) contributed to Charlene’s failure as an alluring character.
The film’s composition is fantastic with a washed out palette that features bright bursts of reds and blues. There are certain details of the set that pull the viewer into Goodnight, Charlene’s universe; all of the visuals were splendid, from the flickering neon and deep shadows, to the simple set furniture and knickknacks, right down to the farmhouse wallpapers.
Though aesthetically pleasing, many scenes throughout the film felt closed in. It’s hard to tell if this was a deliberate artistic choice or if it came down to a lack of budget, hoping that closing in on shots would make the set feel larger. The actors appeared too confined on screen and it was clear they were trying to stay within the bounds of the camera’s zoom.
However the closeness proved to be a minor distraction and didn’t subtract from the better-done aspects of the film, including the superb soundtrack. Featuring original songs “Mariola” and “Charlie’s Song”, the music was more in line with a high budget production than a low cost indie film.
It’s not every day you come across a captivating, well-done film with its own original flavor. Goodnight, Charlene left no loose ends in its juicy plot and ended on a high, satisfying note.