Thursday, October 14, 2010 08:59 PM
On the Viewer - RED
 by Fëanor

I wanted to see RED at least partially because it's based on a comic book by Warren Ellis, despite the fact that I have yet to read said comic book. (That's how much I respect the guy as a writer.) But I had other reasons, too: the spectacular cast, which includes Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Ernest Borgnine, John Malkovich, Brian Cox, Helen Mirren, Richard Dreyfuss, and Mary-Louise Parker; and the insane action and silly comedy that the ads promised us. Well, the cast delivers, and the movie lives up to the ads' promises - and more.

RED surprised and impressed me right away with the slow, gentle, subtle way it opens. We are introduced to Frank Moses (Willis) when he wakes up in the morning, at the exact second that his clock turns over to 6AM. No alarm goes off; that's just the time he wakes up. We watch him as he goes about his morning routine. He lives alone in a large, empty house in the suburbs. It's clear it's an environment he's unfamiliar with. He notices that every other house on his street is decorated for Christmas, and automatically goes out and buys some garish decorations for his house, as well - to blend in. When he receives his pension check, he tears it up and calls the service center, claiming that he has not received it. It's clear this is something he's been doing for some time. The woman he speaks to on the phone there - Sarah (Parker) - is apparently his only human contact. He reads the same, awful romance/adventure novels she does to be closer to her. She's goofy, hates her soul-crushing job, yearns to travel, and seems nearly as lonely as he. When he suggests that they meet in person, she agrees, though with some trepidation.

We know everything's about to go wrong when Frank wakes up in the middle of the night, instead of exactly at 6AM. But it's not until the guys with guns show up that it becomes clear this is not going to be a romantic comedy. And it's only then, when we see how comfortable and efficient Frank is at dealing out violence, that we realize why he's so uncomfortable and out of place in the normal world. It turns out he's only recently retired from a different world entirely: a world of spies and hit men, politics and intrigue. Now he's being dragged back into that world and, to his horror, Sarah's being dragged with him. With her not entirely voluntary assistance, as well as the help of some old buddies who are on the same hit list he is, Frank has to go on a cross-country journey, following a trail of clues to solve the mystery of why everyone's trying to kill him and how to convince them to stop before it's too late.

Frank's journey takes him back in time to a sordid black op he was a part of years ago, and deep into a conspiracy that goes almost all the way to the top. But interestingly enough, the story is not about Frank and his friends coming to terms with all the terrible things they did back then - they're all pretty much okay with that stuff. In fact, they're kind of addicted to it. The action, the violence - they miss it. They're happy to have it back. And Sarah, ultimately, is happy to join in. The point seems to be that living an exciting life, even if it is deadly dangerous, is far preferable to living an empty life. It's a rather ridiculous and romantic notion, and it's a rather ridiculous and romantic film. But it's also very enticing.

Frank is a pretty standard hero character - tough on the outside, but gooey on the inside, as Victoria (Mirren) describes him (she could just as easily be describing the movie). But he's likable and competent, and that goes a long way. To be honest, pretty much all his friends and former enemies are - well, we could charitably call them archetypes, although the word "stereotypes" also comes to mind. But like I said, likability and competency go a long way, as do great acting, smart and funny dialog, exciting action, and an engaging story. Victoria is a particularly wonderful character - a perfectly put-together, proper, elegant older woman who's also a fierce, cold-blooded killer. She seems the most bloodthirsty of the whole group, actually. Frank's burgeoning love affair with Sarah is paralleled and contrasted with Victoria's reignited, long-term, long-distance relationship with Russian agent Ivan Simanov (Cox), and if anything Simanov and Victoria's relationship is the more sweet and interesting one. John Malkovich plays Marvin Boggs, your standard paranoid psychopath, but nobody plays paranoid psychopaths like John Malkovich. He's hilarious - a joy to watch - and the scene in which he blows up his enemy by shooting the tip of her missile is just beautiful. Freeman plays Joe Matheson, a lovable old man and Frank's best friend. Karl Urban is the intense, driven family man chasing Frank - Frank's opposite, and in some ways a mirror image of him as a young man. Borgnine has a great cameo as the keeper of all the CIA's dirty secrets. Only Dreyfuss' character doesn't really work. He seems to be doing evil simply because the film needs a villain. His motives never really become clear, perhaps because he's never allowed to finish any of his interminable bad guy speeches.

RED is a very silly film, full of brutal violence, with a soft heart. It's also delightfully entertaining.
Tagged (?): Movies (Not), On the Viewer (Not), Warren Ellis (Not)

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Welcome to the blog of Jim Genzano, writer, web developer, husband, father, and enjoyer of things like the internet, movies, music, games, and books. For a more detailed run-down of who I am and what goes on here, read this.

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