The plot to Red is as simple as the title. Old man has a dog, young punks kill the dog, old man wants revenge. Avery Ludlow (Brian Cox) is the old man with an old dog named Red. Three teenage hooligans come across the duo fishing in the woods, and in an instant of unprovoked cruelty old Red gets his head blown off. Ludlow buries the dog and mourns the loss but soon sets out very methodically to find the boys and hold them accountable. His initial desire isn’t one of a life for a life… he just wants justice. “What I want to know is the boy admits to what he done and is made to feel damn sorry for what he did,” he tells the father (Tom Sizemore) of two of the boys. Ludlow’s plea is calm and intentional, a man looking for an apology, but he’s sent away empty handed. (Why he would expect rational behavior from Tom Sizemore I don’t know.) He goes to the police, to the courts, and even to the press, but justice remains out of reach. Then Brian Cox gets angry…
What follows is, at times, a taut back and forth between a sad but determined old man and a family of rich but dysfunctional bastards. Like a miniature version of Steven Spielberg’s Munich, the two sides trade punches back and forth almost from beginning to end, escalating to a final conflagration that seems both excessive and underwhelming. We learn a lot about Avery’s motivation, why Red was so important to him, why he may have a deep-seated issue with the lies of youth, and why this issue is one he simply refuses to back down from. But we know next to nothing about the family he finds himself battling. What has made them so powerful, why are the father and son so maniacal, and what’s really happening to the boys’ mother behind closed doors? They become cardboard villains early on and never truly gain a life. Luckily the film’s pace chugs forward without pause, leaving little time to ponder the motivation of one family’s evil leanings.
Red‘s low budget does shows in a few scenes. Maybe “shows” isn’t the right word as it’s the absence of visuals that belies the film’s independent roots. A building burns to the ground, but we see only a reflection of flames in a car’s windshield. A truck flips and crashes after a chase, but we see only the vehicle sitting on its side after the fact. These missing action scenes are obvious, but they don’t harm the film too much in the end. What’s not missing is a strong and touching lead performance from Cox, who gives the film both its heart and its fire. The supporting roles are a mixed bag, but there are some standouts. Noel Fisher plays Danny, the boy with the mean streak, and is extremely convincing as an asshole with a temper. Other worthwhile performances include Kyle Gallner as the sole teen with a conscience, a short cameo by Robert Englund as one of the boy’s white trash father, and an almost unrecognizable Ashley Laurence (Hellraiser) as the boys’ abused mother. And of course Tom Sizemore is… crazy-eyed Tom Sizemore.
Like I said above, Red is a simple movie, but simple doesn’t necessarily mean bad. Brian Cox imbues Ludlow with heart and intelligence, and he makes this revenge tale one of methodical resignation rather than impulsive reflex. Cox plays evil more often than not, so it’s nice to see him bring his character skills to a role we can root for. The film is based on a book by Jack Ketchum, known more for his visceral tales of women trapped in basements then for character pieces cloaked in the narrative of revenge. If you’re looking for the next Death Wish, or even Death Sentence, Red is not the film for you. But if you like your revenge served red with a side of heart and pathos, then give Red a chance. Check out the film’s trailer below.
Red was released on DVD by Magnolia Pictures last month, and includes an interview with Cox along with some deleted scenes.
The Upside: Strong performances, especially from Brian Cox; low-key take on the revenge theme; oddly touching at times; cameos from Englund and Laurence are always a good thing
The Downside: Obvious budget limitations restrain several action scenes; unanswered questions behind the antogonists’ motivations; dramatic ending is underwhelming, and particularly sappy ending is not a tonal fit for everything that came before
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