>Movie Review: Red

>I recently took a trip out to Kansas to visit my lovlier half. It was a wondrous trip, at least partially due to our not having seen each other for about two months. We did all the trip things we do: eat at Olive Garden, walk around Barnes and Noble, watch Nickelodeon.

But after today I thoroughly regret our not doing one that thing was on our list but a low priority: seeing Red.

I am sorry for the pun; I didn’t intend to put it there, I hoped to avoid it, but now it’s present and we all have to live with it in our lives. Her life (“Her” being my lovely lady) is likely to remain tragically unenriched by the experience of Red, at least until it hits DVD and we’re in the same city; she’s not much for hitting the theater by herself. But you, dear reader, could go watch it right now. And you should.

I’ve already expressed my appreciation for The Losers, another excellent film sharing many virtues with Red. I’ve also talked up The Expendables as a fun romp where a bunch of action stars get together and are burly and violent (or tiny and violent, in Jet Li’s case). With Red, we have the lighthearted and generally overblown approach to plot and villainy of the former, with an ensemble cast like the latter—only instead of Red’s cast being comprised of action stars, they’re really talented actors, some of whom can also fire a gun or get into a vicious, choreographed fight.

Bruce Willis (also in The Expendables) is great as Frank Moses, but is that really news? Outside of films like The Kid, does Willis’s performance still require commendation? If nothing else, he seems completely comfortable in this action roll. He’s able to remain extremely understand and laconic without coming off drugged or oblivious. Freeman and Malkovich are also spectacular, each stealing scenes in ways that suit their respective characters. Malkovich’s Marvin is guano crazy, though justifiably so; Freeman’s Joe oozes an affable charm. It’s interesting to view these characters as retirees and feel like one has a sense of what they would have been like in their youth, flying around the globe committing espionage. Joe seems like he’d have been very much a faceman, while Marvin probably didn’t get to interact with people much…though the special surprise during the credits might fly in the face of those assumptions. Karl Urban gives a performance which isn’t nearly as entertaining as Bones, but I’m just happy any time I see the guy getting scenes where he uses full sentences and doesn’t have to be angry at everyone. Richard Dreyfus, whom the lady and I both loved in My Life in Ruins, also has fun with his relatively small role…and gets pimp-slapped by Morgan Freeman, which might very well be a hearkening back to one of his early roles.

I know some men prefer women several years older, though I can’t claim to have ever been one such fellow myself. But Helen Mirren’s performance in Red gave me many reasons to reconsider my predilections. John Rogers mentioned, in a review of Body Heat, that one of the incredible things in that move is Kathleen Turner isn’t the “most gorgeous creature on earth — until the film convinces you she is.” I’ve loved that line since I read his review, and it was at the forefront of my mind when Mirren’s character is introduced and Morgan Freeman declares she’s still sexy. I don’t know if it’s Mirren’s incredible charisma and vacillation between practical arctic camo and elegant dress (both ivory) that sold me, or that the innate response of a human being to Freeman’s voice making a declaration is immediate agreement. She fabulously portrays a character who remains “one of the boys,” where by boys I here mean a trio of still-lethal superspies…but does so while also remaining inarguably and irresistibly feminine.

Mary-Louise Parker also shines in the film, to the point where I felt guilty that I stopped watching Weeds after two seasons. I don’t think that I actually feel bad enough about it to go back to watching Weeds, but it was nice to be reminded of her exceptional charisma. In a film with so many big names, Parker’s Sarah Ross is content to sit back and react…and that’s what makes her so great. With her alabaster skin and wondrously expressive face, she’s at her most compelling when she has nothing to say—and while that sounds like a backhanded compliment, it’s wholly genuine.

I also loved the earliest scenes depicting Willis and Parker. In an alternate universe there’s a movie that is just shy of two hours of them courting one another over the phone, followed by fifteen minutes of explosions. And I would probably watch that movie.

The movie is fun, well-written, and acted in such a way that one can’t ignore the familiarity its stars have with their craft. Your experience may vary, but I find that extremely engaging, and am a sucker for films where the cast seems to be having fun and not feeling especially stressed. Combine that with lots of gunshots and explosions and Red is a very satisfying, worthwhile experience.

However, I do want to voice one small caveat. This is something I’ve become more conscious of in the last few months (specifically in Dungeons and Dragons Online, which I might address at a later time), and it’s gradually growing more noticeable: the morality in Red is thoroughly ambiguous. I don’t just mean the cloak and dagger, “can you trust your government?” elements to the plot, either. There are least two points when characters, thoroughly likeable ones at that, lament how long it’s been since they’ve killed someone or how difficult it is to stop killing people. And in both of those situations the context is completely lacking.

When we learn Frank Moses was a black ops man (and if that’s a spoiler, people…come on now), the information is carefully packaged to focus on his killing terrorists and drug dealers. The movie spends very little time trying to convince us that Frank is a bad, or even morally questionable, man. Marvin is initially presented as being dangerously paranoid, but the scope of what the retirees are caught in quickly vindicates his apparent mania. Yet when these other characters talk about killing, there’s no discussion about their targets. It made scenes where the team is quite clearly going out of their way to avoid killing other people, both innocents and armed lackeys, ring somewhat false. I was surprised that there was not even a suggestion that certain people are reasonable targets for execution because of their lines of work. I suppose if the film actually did present that sort of argument, it might invalidate the premise of the movie itself.

So maybe I’m glad it didn’t. I don’t think the absence of that moral conversation breaks the film or makes it impossible to enjoy. I’ll be purchasing it the weekend it hits DVD, so that I can sit back and enjoy a double-feature of The Losers and Red….and The A-Team…and The Expendables. That’s less a double-feature, more a movie orgy—and I’m looking forward to it.

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One thought on “>Movie Review: Red

  1. >The moral quandry here is actually the first thing I noticed when I saw the preview for the first time… although it isn't necessarily limited to Red among action movies by any means. We have experienced killers who in the past have murdered others in the line of business… and now the government has decided for some reason that they should die. And short of the fact that the camera is following them around, I don't see any reason right off the bat without knowing the end of the movie why we shouldn't assume that the government is right about that. Even if we don't believe that the government is blameless in all this, we're left with 4 morally questionable lives on one side and the dozens upon dozens of morally questionable drones that they'll mow down over the course of the film on the other. And by the way… they're cops (CIA agents, but basically, that means cops in suits with wires in their ears). I mean… what's supposed to be upsetting us, the lack of due process that the dream team is receiving? That no one read John Malkovich his rights before trying to bring him in? I prefer my good guys to either BE good guys, or fighting against guys so bad that they look good in comparison, or wrapped up in a story that's bigger than good and bad and finds a way to compel you to root for the protagonists anyway. I doubt at the end of the day this does any of that?All that aside, it DOES look cool! The scene where Bruce Willis steps out of the car as it spins down the road? Too cool. Helen Mirren's do-me-eyes? Alluring. Morgan Freeman in a Sergent Pepper jacket? Fantastic. John Malkovich overacting and creeping everyone out? Well… par for the course with everything else he's ever done, but its a winning formula. I'm sure the cast sparkles with charisma and that I'll enjoy watching the movie… I'm just concerned that once it draws to a close I'll end up looking back and realizing I was rooting for the wrong team all along.

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