Red

Red

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

After several years of plying his trade in, predominately, supporting Hollywood roles – in everything from Bourne Supremacy and X-Men 2 to Running With Scissors and Zodiac – it seems Brian Cox is finally getting the chance to sink his considerable acting chops into something more robust. He will be seen giving a command performance in The Escapist - on general release at the end of June – and it can surely only be a matter of time before this film, which is making its way round the festival circuit, follows it to the box office. This is a good thing, not least because Cox is not an actor who easily blends in. His talent is considerable and one always has the suspicion that he won’t compromise and rein himself in just because he is acting against those who aren’t as accomplished as he is.

No such problem here, since this is pure and simply Cox’s film from beginning to end – although he is helped admirably by the supporting cast, which includes Tom Sizemore, and TV regulars Noel Fisher (The Riches) and Kyle Gallner.

Cox is Avery Ludlow. An old-timer who, though happy to interact with folk in the local town, relies most on the company of his dog – the Red of the title – an aged but faithful hound named by his late wife. A chance encounter on a fishing trip, which sees Red fall victim to a malicious and pointless act of violence, leads Avery to embark on a slow but determined campaign to secure an apology. Sadly, juvenile thug Danny (Fisher), his weak-willed brother Harold (Gallner) and white-trash pal Pete (Shiloh Fernadez) refuse to oblige and their obvious lies are backed by Harold and Danny’s risible nouveau riche dad (Sizemore), who believes money is the answer to everything.

This careless attitude coupled with the impotency of a legal system, which places no real value on Avery’s priceless pal, leads events to take a much more sinister turn, as Avery begins to ‘bait’ Danny in an effort to make him snap and do something which can truly be declared ‘criminal’. At what point does a person’s hunt for justice stop and a lust for vengeance begin?

There is no denying this film’s pulp origins as a Jack Ketchum novel and, in the latter third, the situation spirals out of control and becomes a trifle overblown – but up until then it simmers nicely, shying away from the usual acts of violence that pepper similar revenge thrillers. Even so, the filmmakers don’t really commit to the full pulp experience either, since the action gives way to a far too drawn out and neatly tied up ending – complete with unnecessary fluffiness. A sub-plot involving TV reporter Carrie (Kim Dickens) also lacks conviction. Perhaps some of the problems of Red’s schizophrenic tone stem from the fact that the film (according to several reports) was originally being directed by US horror-genre helmer Lucky McKee, only for him to be replaced partway through the project by Norwegian Trygve Allister Diesen, who, one could argue, lends a much more European, contemplative tone to the direction of much of the movie.

But that shouldn’t take anything away from Cox’s performance. He inhabits Avery like a force of nature, drawing the audience to him and eliciting sympathy, even when his acts become morally dubious. He invests him with a combination of pathos, righteousness, grief and anger that proves a heady and volatile mix and – thanks in no small part to some sharp scripting from Stephen Susco – delivers the best onscreen monologue seen outside of a Shakespeare adaptation for years. It is Cox’s careful rendering of the character that carries you through the film’s more outlandish moments and he alone is reason enough to see it.

Reviewed on: 15 May 2008
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A man sets out to find justice after his dog falls victim to a random act of violence.


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