Red (2008) Movie Review

(Movie Review by Laurence Bush) The film, Red, turns good and evil inside out. Everyone loves Avery. He is a dog-lover, war veteran, fisherman, beer drinker, and widower living in a typical small American town. He has a kind, sincere face, weathered by life and soulful eyes that belie a secret tragedy. Three teenaged boys accost him while he’s peacefully fishing at his favorite spot. When Danny, the main bad boy, shoots his beloved dog, Red, in cold blood and for no apparent reason, it’s repulsive. Even more so, when Avery tracks down the boy’s rich father, he denies it and uses his influence to stop Avery from getting any sort of justice.

In the finest American tradition Avery does not give up. He recalls his Army service in Korea, where he fought with whatever he could lay his hands on and he learned that “the world rolled over” whoever didn’t try to fight back. Certainly he wasn’t going to let the world roll over him and his deceased dog, a birthday present from his late wife.

Danny’s character becomes more despicable as the movie unfolds. He spits on pizza, abuses his date, and torments his kinder brother. Avery just follows the boys around watching and waiting. He finally gets Danny’s brother alone, and he apologizes to Avery but refuses to testify against his Danny. When Avery presses him, he says the key line of the film, “You just don’t get it.” Then he slouches away.

Avery doesn’t get it. He can’t stand to live in a world where a teenaged boy can get away with such a purely evil action. He doesn’t understand the nature of human evil with its unrepentant swagger. Like a dog he hangs onto his bone. A local TV newswoman understands him. She does a story on his quest for justice in an uncaring world. When Avery confides in her about his own tragically uncontrollable son, the hinges of fate snap shut around him. He’s on a vendetta to redeem his son and himself through reforming Danny.

Avery eggs Danny into assaulting him in public in front of sympathetic witnesses. He pounds Danny leaving him moaning on the sidewalk. He got his revenge. He thinks it’s the end of the story. The next day someone torches his store. Now it has spiraled out of control. Avery digs up his dead dog and lays the carcass on the porch of the cabin where Danny’s family is staying. The mother asks, “Why are you doing this to us?” She doesn’t get it either. This leads to a bloody climax of mayhem and death.

Even with his good intentions and admirable determination, Avery finally realizes that he went wrong. Danny’s brother was right. He just didn’t get it. Doing the right thing is not simply stubbornly hanging on to a simple principle. The code of the Old West notwithstanding, a burning desire for justice is not always a virtue.

It is telling that Avery is a Korean War veteran. That war was the first step well-intentioned America made into a moral abyss. It was the simple, the patriotic, morally right solution to a complex problem that was not fully understood by the people or the government. Like Avery, the spirit was to go in and fight, or the world, or in the film’s case, the rich and powerful, would roll over us.

The movie Red has its shortcomings. Though the film does an excellent job of establishing Avery as a sympathetic character, the climax misfires, losing most of its potential emotional punch. The scene is shot in the murky woods, and the outcome is unclear until Avery casually lets us know at tail end of the film. It loses its power to the darkness and rest through bad editing. After the climax, the film rushes the through the most important scenes of Avery’s remorse and self-reproach. .Emmy® Award winner, Brian Cox, a fine actor who plays Avery, in the end has not enough chance to act. He barely shows how the events of the film changed him or to say anything significant about it or how he now sees his tragic past or the relationships he has in the present. The last precious minutes of the film are wasted on a benign scene with Avery and another dog.

Some of the film’s problems may be from switching director’s at the end. Lucky McKee directed most of the film in Los Angeles, but filming stopped with no explanation. Norwegian director, Trigve Allister Diesen finished the film in Maryland. This may or may not explain the muddled ending.

Another problem is that the film wastes the acting talent of Robert Englund, known to the world as Freddy Krueger in the Nightmare on Elm Street film series. He’s only there in a couple brief scenes in the doorway of his house. Despite his presence and the screenplay by Stephen “The Grudge” Susco, this is no horror film. To Englund’s credit, he’s convincing in his minor role. If he had been allowed to show more inner conflict or interaction with other characters, it would have added a lot of weight to the film.

Even though Avery blindly causes a tragedy, viewer sympathy is still firmly with him to the end. Brian Cox portrays Avery with rare sensitivity and control. The audience can feel his inner sadness long before they know about his terrible past and disastrous realizations. The standard clear-cut good vs. evil theme is so embedded in the American psyche that the audience is not given time to shift feelings in the end. They still back the good guy even when he’s wrong. After all, he loves dogs doesn’t he?

Trygve Allister Diesen, Lucky McKee (director) / Stephen Susco (screenplay), Jack Ketchum (novel)
CAST: Brian Cox … Avery Ludlow
Noel Fisher … Danny
Tom Sizemore … Michael McCormack
Kyle Gallner … Harold
Shiloh Fernandez … Pete Doust
Marcia Bennett … Emma Siddons
Lauren Birkell … Molly Flick

Buy Red on DVD