To attempt to deliver a linear plot synopsis of Simon Rumley’s Red, White and Blue (2010) would be to heavily misrepresent the film. To do it, you’d have to impose a regular viewing experience onto an irregular one, and to make this possible, you’d have to fill in a lot of gaps. Some of the information you’d offer may be surmised. You may even find your version of events doesn’t tally with the extrapolations made by others, even people watching the film at the same time as yourself.
I don’t say any of this to denigrate the film – far from it. Red, White and Blue is bold in its execution and its unusual format utterly drew me into its tragic course of events.
Bearing in mind, then, that I am rendering an unorthodox film down into an orthodox review, the basic plot of the film is this: Erica (Amanda Fuller), a rootless young woman, divides her time between no-strings fucking and undertaking crappy work to keep her rented room. She keeps people at a distance, and only reluctantly allows a near-neighbour called Nate (Noah Taylor) to fix her up with a job at a local hardware store. Although Erica is a cold character, we start to see evidence of an emotional life behind that facade, but before she and Nate can get beyond that, their lives collide with the life of Franki (Marc Senter), one of Erica’s previous one-night stands. The chaotic ties to the past which this illustrates throws each of the characters into turmoil – and turmoil is what this film specialises in.
That inescapable storminess is communicated first and foremost by the film’s structure: Red, White and Blue uses very short takes which move along rapidly, episodically. Sometimes future on-screen events mingle with current events – Erica is standing in her shower before we know she has arrived home; Erica is leaving an apartment before she has got what she went there for. This leads to a feeling of being whirled along, of events (literally) overtaking our characters. Days pass in a blur.
The snappy, episodic format leaves little time to ponder what motivates our characters here, but the interest they generate is intense. This is a credit to Rumley’s direction and writing; with deft moves which are only on-screen for a heartbeat, you see enough to be given evidence of a trait, and these traits hint at more going on in the background without simply describing it or spoon-feeding the audience. In terms of focus, the film scans Erica, then Franki and finally Nate to reveal how the lives of these people are set on a collision course. Everything’s cut down to a bare minimum – and that includes dialogue – but you don’t feel that there is less of a story in this film, even though elements of it are withheld until the last scenes, and some are deliberately left out. Yet, even without spelling out the sort of detail you’d usually find in a narrative, none of our characters are represented as morally superior or inferior. They all variously act cruelly, but they are not by nature cruel. I’d even say that each of the main characters is sympathetic: we know that their worst excesses are driven by the pitiless indifference of the world they’ve known.
It’s not a flawless film: some of the later scenes began to look less distinctive, echoing a lot of other horror movies of recent years. However, these scenes do at least make us wonder what is permissible in order to defend honour, friendship and love. Stellar performances – especially from Taylor, as a timebomb with a sensitive side – against a background of lurid colour and an atmosphere of tremendous fever-heat makes Red, White and Blue an oppressive, and a deeply sad viewing experience. Vengeance isn’t pretty.