Simon Rumley’s Red, White & Blue is a film about grey areas. There are no heroes or villains in the unforgiving landscape of this film, a landscape featuring characters that make life-altering bad decisions or knowingly do unforgivable things. It’s a dense, serious study of unfortunate happenstance, one which implements a brooding quietude throughout. It’s a film that focuses on details and allows these details to slowly accumulate in the propelling of the story, deliberately manufacturing its enveloping mood and setting throughout. It’s an impressive achievement, even if one doesn’t take into account the small, independent scale of its production. It’s simply the exact opposite of what one would expect from a low-budget horror film, as it deftly explores the horrifying capabilities of men and women when pushed to the limits of reason in an unreasonable world.
Shot here in Austin and co-produced by Alamo Drafthouse owner Tim League, Red, White & Blue tells the story of Erica (Amanda Fuller), a promiscuous, white cowboy boot-sporting single woman who spends her days and nights jobless, moving from bed to bed without any desire top get to know her partners for more than one night. Her neighbor Nate (Noah Taylor) is infatuated with her, but cares more about straightening her life out than sleeping with her. Franki (Marc Senter) is a guitarist for a local band that pursues a record deal while caring for his sick mom and reconnecting with his ex-girlfriend. Franki’s one-night stand with Erica alters the expected course of his life and sets the rest of the film’s events (which I won’t reveal here) into motion.
Red, White & Blue is the textbook example of the slow burn. Throughout the film, the attention of the camera switches from one character to the next. We know that these characters are going to intersect, but we don’t know how, and the experience of watching what seem at first to be details of each of their lives irrelevant to the overall plot play into the inevitable confrontation between them is fascinating to watch play out. Red, White & Blue is in no way a fun movie to watch, but the slow-paced involvement we get with these characters make the climactic moments all the more emotionally affecting. By the time the film’s masterfully challenging, layered, surprising, and ambiguous ending comes about, you realize you’ve become far more invested in these characters than you bargained for. It’s resonant in a way that few films of this genre and scale care to be.
Noah Taylor shows here the depth that his memorable supporting performances in bigger films only allude to, displaying a wealth of information with mere glances, grimaces, and with minimal dialogue. He’s matched well here by Amanda Fuller, who commands in the film’s center with a brave, risk-taking performance. The weak link here is Senter, not only in the lack of conviction in his performance and stunted line-delivery, but in the ways his character is far less interesting than the other two that round out the film. While Nate and Erica embody the ambiguous grey area Rumley pursues in his narrative, Franki remains impenetrable despite the (cheap) signifiers of attempted empathy that come into play (his mother dying of cancer). We may feel sympathy for Franki, but we don’t empathize with him – we don’t invade his psyche like we do with Erica throughout and like we do with Nate in the film’s commanding final moments. Franki is a selfish character who makes stupid decisions that ensure his own downfall – he’s a villain in a world that has no room for such clear delineations as it is painted here. Yet, Red, White & Blue remains an impressive achievement on many levels, a product by a director in control of his characters, story in mood, matched by (two) great performances. Simon Rumley is a name to look out for.