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Oddly billed as a slacker revenge movie, “Red, White & Blue” is, to be fair, a bit of a hard film to pigeonhole, being a bleak and intense, though impressively grounded and believable tale of disaffected characters colliding in violent fashion. Despite its Texas setting, the film was directed by British helmer Simon Rumley, following up his disturbing drama “The Living and the Dead” after a break of 4 years, and boasts a pretty eclectic cast, headlined by television actress Amanda Fuller, Noah Taylor (“Submarine”) and Marc Senter (recently in the semi-successful screen adaptation of Jack Ketchum’s “The Lost”). Following a highly successful run at festivals and having built up some very positive word of mouth, it lands shortly on region 2 DVD via Trinity.
Fuller plays Erica, a directionless young woman in Austin, Texas, living in a boarding house and spending her nights trawling the local bars for one night stands and unprotected random sex. Her life changes when an Iraqi war veteran called Nate (Taylor) moves into the room next door and seemingly takes a liking to her, getting her a steady job in a local DIY store. Although Erica’s promiscuous behaviour continues unabated and he reveals a distinctly sociopathic streak, the two slowly form a bond of sorts. However, the consequences of a liaison with would-be musician Franki (Senter) come back to haunt her, leading to a tragic and increasingly violent chain of events.
There’s a great deal more to “Red, White & Blue”, though it’s best not to give away anything further, as despite its low-fi, laid back feel, it’s a film which to a large extent revolves around a monstrous third act twist. To Rumley’s great credit, he manages to work this in with as little fuss as possible, balancing it skilfully with an essentially meandering approach, at least during the first two thirds, skipping between scenes seemingly without drive while subtly sketching the lives of his characters. As a result, the film is both unconventional and unpredictable, though without ever being obtuse, even more so due to his refusal to pass moral judgement on the frequently abhorrent and hateful of the three protagonists. Although depressing and pretty much entirely without any glimmers of hope, the film is not only incredibly gripping and powerful, but also strangely moving, something which makes its final act very hard to take.
The film is very much a slow burn affair, with the first hour being devoid of blood or visceral nastiness. While this may leave impatient genre fans wondering where it is going, gorehounds will certainly find it worth the wait, with some truly shocking and brutal scenes later on, that are all the more hard hitting for their casual nihilism and matter of fact delivery – it’s easy enough to see why the film has been likened to “Audition” and “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance”, with audience walkouts at various festivals. Even during these scenes, Rumley keeps his nerve, and maintains a grounded, gritty look throughout, with he combines with some interesting editing choices to give a real feel of artistry and craftsmanship.
Although his handling is key to the film’s impact and success, it’s real strength lies in its players, being very much a performance piece, most of the running time intimately following around the 3 leads. On this score, the film really belongs to Noah Taylor, who is utterly compelling as the supremely creepy and ambiguous Nate, attaining an utterly believable air of threat and menace and effortlessly dominating every scene he appears in. Fuller also offers up a brave and convincing turn, adding humanity and sympathy to a potentially audience-alienating role, and though he has the least to do, Sender is similarly decent.
The efforts of Rumley and his cast really do lift “Red, White & Blue” up several notches and help to mark it as something genuinely special, at least for viewers with strong stomachs and an inclination to explore the darker and more depressing corners of human existence. A tough, immaculately made gem, which will hopefully find the cult success it deserves, it stands out as one of the more memorable and disturbing films of the last year.
Simon Rumley (director) / Simon Rumley (screenplay)
CAST: Amanda Fuller … Erica
Marc Senter … Franki
Jon Michael Davis … Ed
Nick Ashy Holden … Alvin
Patrick Crovo … Carl
Mary Mathews … Marj
Noah Taylor … Nate