Thursday, January 28, 2021 13:05

Red (2008)

Rarely have I wanted a central character to get vindicated as much as I did after watching Red (2008), a deeply-affecting and engaging film by director Lucky McGee, showing us again that – as with another of his films, May (2002) – he is terrifically skilled at creating sympathetic, flawed, deeply human characters on screen.

Brian Cox plays Avery Ludlow, a respected old timer living a quiet life with his beloved pet dog, Red. Closing up the local store he runs one day, he and Red head out to do a spot of fishing, where he runs into three teenage boys hoping to shoot deer.

When Ludlow points out that the smell of the gun oil might be why they haven’t so much as spotted any deer, embarrassment seems initially to compel one of the boys, Danny (Noel Fisher) into increasingly menacing behaviour, as he begins to berate and demand money from Ludlow. And then, although Ludlow is being placatory, Danny levels his shotgun at Red, killing the animal outright, before the boys disappear back into the woods.

In shock, Ludlow returns home with Red’s body and buries him, but he decides he must track down the boys in order to insist they apologise. Moments of purposefulness are intermingled with acute sadness for the loss of his closest companion – a dog bought for him fourteen years before by his now-deceased wife – and Cox’s performance here is intensely good. By and large, he finds out who the boys are and goes to speak with Danny’s and his rather more moral younger brother Harold’s (Kyle Gallner) father, Mr. McCormack (Tom Sizemore) – but although he is initially polite, McCormack believes the boys’ lie about their whereabouts on the day of the shooting, and so Ludlow gets neither an admission nor an apology.

Unable to just forget this, or to just accept such a display of cowardice and dishonesty, Ludlow tries everything he can to seek redress – but his attempts to do this through legal means are soon interrupted by an escalating campaign against him by the McCormacks, whose intitial facade of courteousness soon slips to reveal something persecutory and dangerous. As the McCormack vendetta drives Ludlow into pursuing a vendetta of his own, we see that he has long been struggling to come to terms with past tragedy in his life. His relationship with Red was actually his lynchpin, all that he had to keep himself together and to link him to his old life, and the one thing that stopped him being overwhelmed by an incredible trauma.

This film has several things in common with straightforward ‘vengeance’ films, but it is far more complex than a tale of a man out for some vigilante justice. Ludlow does everything he can to seek redress through safe and legal means, and it is only his growing frustration at a system which rewards bribery and seems to be stacked against honorable people which (eventually) makes him take the law into his own hands. It is his disbelief, both that people can act in such an arrogant way and thrive, thanks to a system which allows them to get away with it, which drives the drama here – and it is the continued cruelty of others which, after all, drives a decent man to desperate actions. One of the reasons that the film is so effective is that we recognise this inept system and the monsters who succeed within it. The shooting of Red – a blasé moment of mindless cruelty – was very affecting and I found it deeply upsetting, despite it being handled in an understated way (you do not actually see the shooting) and fundamentally necessary to the development of the film’s intense pathos. Also, as the film deals with imbalanced power relationships in society, as well as the idea of powerless/indifferent parents and the resultant immoral, cruel children, then the usage of that scene is a sharp indicator of these themes. Animal cruelty is intensely emotionally-charged and so we as an audience understand Ludlow’s shock, disbelief, sadness and anger.

Red is a powerful, brilliantly-realised film and its horror derives from the pain of loss, and of good people trying to deal with that loss. Brian Cox gives a superb performance here and this is not a film I will easily forget. Highly recommended.

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