Walking down the street in Austin one fine afternoon, I made the remark that I wasn’t sure how to feel about a film that just played Fantastic Fest because it had a happy ending. “No one was raped or killed, I’m not sure how to feel about that.” I’m not an advocate of raping and killing (except when they really, really deserve it), but the vast majority of films I saw this year dealt with those themes heavily. Seeing something happy and cheery actually threw me pretty hard. Luckily, Red White & Blue from writer-director Simon Rumley was there to bring me right back down into a pit of despair and make me want to give up on life.
Red White & Blue follows a trio of Austin residents as their stories intersect and collide with unfortunate events. Erica (Amanda Fuller) is a promiscuous girl down on her luck who finds something close to a relationship developing with the off-kilter Army veteran Nate (Noah Taylor). Rock-n-roller Franki (Marc Senter) has a brief fling with Erica and the results of said fling have ramifications for all.
The film starts, and continues for the most part, rather slowly. The very beginning is accompanied by a somewhat clunky piano score while the Ellen Page-looking Erica plows through (or gets plowed through by?) a whole bunch of dudes. Make sure mom is in the other room if you find yourself watching this film.
Those who have lived in, or visited, Austin, will find a lot to point at and whisper to their friends about. I was only there for a week and I recognized streets, buildings, Toy Joy, and the famous Alamo Drafthouse itself. During this time we see the relationship between the messed up Nate, who seemingly has legitimate feelings, and the distant Erica slowly grow. Of course, during this period she’s still getting railed by pretty much every dude who comes on screen. Even still, Nate doesn’t give up on trying to establish a relationship with her, no matter how dysfunctional it may be.
Thirty-five minutes into the film, gears shift abruptly and we’re following rocker Franki and his troubled life, most of which stems from his teetering rock career and his seriously ill mother. I found the film to drag a bit here as the sadness was just layered on in some predictable manners.
Around the hour mark, we finally get to the really messed up part that flips this film from a sad sob story to a revenge flick. Many will probably find bits of it hard to watch as revenge is extracted and the film is effective, brutal, violent, and harsh. You won’t feel good when it’s over, but you’re not supposed to.
Overall, Red White & Blue is a dark film that is effective at making you feel kind of messed up, which I’m assuming was the intent. Now, if that is the goal, great – success. But that’s not to say the film is great. It definitely feels slow at times and suffers from an awkward structure. Like I mentioned, at the 35 minute mark we just abandon everyone we were following for a new story. Later it all comes together, but could have been melded together and interwoven better. Further, the last kill seems like it would be better suited for Hatchet II than a revenge-thriller. It’s brutal and well done, but a bit over the top and insane.
There are also some glaringly stupid character choices that I can’t go into without spoiling a major plot point, but at the end of the film you’ll know what I’m talking about. Perhaps the worst part of the film for me was the lack of sympathy I felt for, basically everyone. None of these people are good. Normally in a revenge film you cheer for the man taking the revenge and while he is the least bad of all of them, the degree and breadth of his revenge is a bit much, especially with his first act.
Noah Taylor is fantastic as Nate and carries every scene he’s in, although the rest of the cast does well. The film is well shot and directed – technically my only issue is with the score throughout the first hour or so.
In the end, Red White & Blue is a complex and brutal revenge film that offers up plenty to talk about when the credits silently roll by, but one that comes with a few flaws in pacing and structure.
Red White & Blue is available now on-demand through your local cable subscribers as an IFC Midnight release, check it out if you’ve got the stones.