Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Red (2008)

Brian Cox: badass

As a dog owner, I can really get behind the idea of a vigilante seeking revenge over the death of his dog, but there aren't too many movies like that out there. Sure, there's Mad Max 2, but I'm pretty sure the revenge was split 50/50 between his dog and his car. There's The Brave One, but that film dealt with lesser crime of dognapping and I'm pretty sure her fiance being murdered was a bigger motivating factor. This is a pity because it's an idea both badass and totally awesome. Wife raped and murdered? Yawn, seen it all before. Show a dog getting killed however, and you watch people howl for blood (get it, it's like what dogs do, I am a literary genius). So, when someone pointed me to this here film Red, which deals with exactly that concept, I had to check it out. Also, Brian Cox. Sold.

Avery Ludlow (Cox) is one of these crusty old guys who always shows up in films set in the rural northwest. Wears a cowboy hat, owns a hardware store, has a flirtacious relationship with the waitress at the local diner etc. He lives by himself, and his only companion is his dog Red (a brilliant performance from an uncredited Nic Cage... nah just kidding, it's just some dog). One day when he is out fishing with Red these three punk kids show up, try to rob him and then shoot his dog. It's offscreen thankfully, but still heartbreaking. I'll admit, there were tears. My body may look like it was sculpted from the finest marble, but I'm not made of stone.

Ludlow tries to get justice through the traditional channels. Turns out that two of the kids are sons of a wealthy local family, the McCormacks, so he goes to their house to try to get them to apologise. Unfortunately their father is a complete scumbag asshole (Tom Sizemore, naturally) so that doesn't work. Ludlow's lawyer claims that he can only pin the kids for animal cruelty, and since there are no witnesses even that looks doubtful. Plus there's that whole son-of-a-powerful-family thing. He's Above the Law, like Henry Silva. They try to buy him off, but Ludlow's having none of it. He doesn't want money, he only wants an apology. In a flagrant violation of Chekov's Law, there's a bit where he goes to his shed and unlocks a cabinet full of guns, but he doesn't ever use them. This isn't that kind of film. There are a lot of vigilante films that claim to be about justice but are really about cathartic violence. This one really is about justice. Dog justice.

Eventually Ludlow is contacted by this TV reporter named Carrie (Kim Dickens). She hopes that by making his story public that the McCormacks will be forced to act, but it kind of backfires. Just a few seconds after the TV report airs one of the kids throws a brick through his window with a threatening note. I guess they were hanging around outside his house watching the local news on their iPhone or something. Anyway, eventually Ludlow opens up to her and relates the horrific story of what happened to his family. It's pretty horrendous and maybe a little over-the-top, but it makes you understand why he thinks it's so important that this asshole kid takes responsibility for his actions.

Speaking of which, I thought they did a good job with the kids. At first I thought they played things a little too broad, portraying the ringleader (Noel Fisher) as a giggling sociopath, but they do a good job selling it later on. You see him driving girls away with his assholishness (and when you're as rich as he is you have to work pretty hard) and losing his shit during a game of baseball. His brother (Kyle Gallner) is sorry about what happened and tries to apologise to Ludlow on his own, but he's too afraid to stand up to his father. The third kid (Shiloh Fernandez) is from a white trash family and his dad is played by Robert Englund. I guess you're going to end up fucked-in-the-head when your dad is Freddy Krueger. Look what happened in Freddy's Dead.

Unsurprisingly things start getting out of hand for ol' Ludlow. He starts stalking the kid, goading him into attacking him in the middle of a street full of witnesses, but this just makes things worse. Ludlow digs up his dead dog to try and guilt them into apologising. There's a gunpoint confrontation. They try to kill him but fail because he's a badass. He returns and there's another Mexican standoff. Things end pretty violently, and when Carrie publishes a newspaper article portraying Ludlow as a hero (I guess this movie takes place in the near future where old media has collapsed and journalists have to simulataneously work in TV and print media) Ludlow gets pretty upset. He didn't want anyone to get hurt.

This one was directed by Lucky McKee, who made May, one of my favourite horror films of the last decade. He directed most of it, anyway. Apparently shooting was halted for six months and then resumed with a different guy, Trygve Allister Diesen, who didn't direct May and in fact made nothing I ever heard of. They do a pretty good job with a limited budget, although there's some cheesy transitions where the screen dissolves to red, in case you forgot the name of the movie you are watching. I mean why would you forget that? It's the name of his dog and it's written right there on the DVD case.

Apparently it was adapted from a Jack Ketchum novel, and you can tell that the dude loves dogs. Man's best friend is treated with quiet respect. There aren't any jokes about ball-licking or eating poop. No talking chihuahuas wearing oversized sunglasses. You will have to get your Marmaduke style antics elsewhere. Ludlow even gets some information out of a gun store owner by trading heroic dog stories. When he is trying to relate the importance of his dog to this reporter gal, she says she has three cats and he says that's good enough. I guess he's working on 3 cats to 1 dog exchange rate, which sounds about right. Two cats? Fuck off, not good enough. Maybe if you had some goldfish as well, but there would have to be a lot of them. This is a dog we're talking about, after all. Would a cat guide you to safety if you accidentally blew your foot off in a hunting accident? Well a dog in this film did. Fuck cats.

So this isn't really a revenge film, it's more of a tragic drama about a man who tries to find justice for his animal friend and ends up in over his head. I enjoyed it a lot, even if it wasn't the cathartic, dog-based vigilante film I was craving. Actually, that gives me an idea. Does anyone remember that kids TV show Wishbone from the mid 90s about a Jack Russel terrier that re-enacts stories from classic literature? Well how about a gritty reboot about a Jack Russel terrier takes revenge after his owners are murdered. The can call it Death Wishbone. Seriously Hollywood, call me.


brandoncurtis said...

I really wanted to like "Red" but I think the idea of someone going this batshit crazy over a dog is too much to buy. I like dogs, admire the loyalty and companionship but I think even the fiercely loyal dog lovers he talks to earlier would find that he's going just a wee bit over the top.

Damn shame too because I like all the Ketchum adaptations and this one has the strongest pedigree I think.

Dave said...

Yeah, I agree it's pretty over the top, but it worked for me. Plus I think the motivation for Ludlow's crusade isn't just about the dog, it's also (maybe mostly) about not letting the kid grow up to be like his son.