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Sunday, April 24, 2011

RED -- movie review by porfle

If you love dogs, you'll understand why Avery Ludlow (Brian Cox) won't rest until he gets justice for the senseless shooting of his best friend RED (2008), and you'll root for him all the way.  Needless to say, it's hard to see a good dog get murdered by bad guys, as happens in such films as HONDO, BIG JAKE, and THE ROAD WARRIOR in scenes that I still find painful to watch.  Here, the incident occurs early and serves to light the slow fuse for the powderkeg we know will go off before the movie's over. 

Like SLING BLADE, this is a leisurely-paced character study that takes place in a rural setting and slowly builds toward a violent climax.  Here, the main character of Avery Ludlow is an older gent who lives with his beloved canine companion Red, having tragically lost his wife and two sons years earlier.  While enjoying a lazy afternoon's fishing at a secluded lake, Avery is accosted by three young punks--brothers Danny and Harold, and their friend Pete--who first try to rob him and, discovering that the old geezer doesn't have enough cash to bother with, shotgun his dog just for the sadistic hell of it. 

Crushed beyond words, Avery tracks down the identity of the shooter and confronts the boy's father, McCormack (a blonde Tom Sizemore), in the hope of at least inspiring a little parental discipline.  But it turns out that the father is just as much of a punk as the kid, and a rich, influential one at that, so Avery's only recourse is to pursue legal channels.  This not only proves fruitless but eventually escalates into a feud between him and the McCormack clan that we just know aint a-gonna end well. 

Brian Cox brings the same quiet intensity to the role of Avery Ludlow as he did when brilliantly portraying the screen's first Hannibal Lecter in Michael Mann's MANHUNTER, although here, needless to say, he's a much more benign character.  Any other actor might have given in to temptation and chewed several large chunks of scenery along the way (I'm looking at you, George C. Scott) but Cox maintains a firm resolve throughout, making his moments of silent grief and barely-restrained anger more effective.

He gets one particularly dramatic single-take scene in which he recounts the lengthy tale of what really happened to his wife and sons to a sympathetic TV reporter named Carrie (Kim Dickens), and it's almost as riveting as Robert Shaw's "Indianapolis" story in JAWS.  Even when worst finally comes to worst, he never loses his cool, and never seeks the kind of revenge we're used to seeing in stories like this--all he wants is for somebody to own up to what happened and do right by him and old Red.

Tom Sizemore is just right as the sort of rich redneck who buys his delinquent son a shotgun for his birthday and doesn't give a damn what he does with it.  Noel Fisher succeeds in making us hate his guts as Danny, the kid who pulls the trigger on the dog, while Kyle Gallner as his guilt-ridden brother Harold is somewhat reminiscent of a soulful young Eric Roberts.  In lesser roles that are little more than cameos, Robert "Freddy" Englund and the always unpredictable Amanda Plummer play the weaselly parents of one of the boys, while HELLRAISER's Ashley Laurence is McCormack's abused wife. 
The direction, begun by Lucky McKee (MAY, THE WOODS) and completed by Trygve Allister Diesen, isn't particularly outstanding and the cinematography tends a bit toward the murky side, but both are adequate.  I haven't read the original novel by Jack Ketchum so I can't attest to the faithfulness of Stephen Susco's screenplay, though I can say that it's well-written.  The give and take between opposing sides keeps things interesting as it progresses from rocks to baseball bats to arson, and then, finally, to things that go "pow."

Once you get past that difficult early scene in which the dog dies--and if you're like me, it's indeed hard to do, especially after we're shown what devoted buddies Avery and Red are--this is a slow but engrossing tale that makes its way inexorably toward the final showdown between a man who won't compromise and a group of lowlifes just begging for some good old-fashioned comeuppance.  RED delivers, just as long as you aren't expecting to see it dished out Charles Bronson style.

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