Monday, January 23, 2012
DVD Review: RED
I'm not the biggest fan of action movies. I tend to gravitate towards films that are more dialogue and character driven. I like a movie that tells a great story, keeps me in suspense, and does so without relying so heavily on explosions and special effects. That said, I end up catching most action flicks on DVD as opposed to running out and seeing them in the theater. This was the case with RED.
On paper RED sounds like a movie I'd be very interested in. For starters, the cast is right up my alley. Starring Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Brian Cox and Karl Urban, the film is loaded with talent. When it comes to action movies, Bruce Willis is usually enough to pique my interest. After all, he starred in what I consider to be the greatest action film of all time, Die Hard. In addition to its A-list cast, the movie is loosely based off a 3-issue comic book by Warren Ellis and Cully Hammer that was published by DC back in 2003. I'm a huge fan of Ellis' work, however I never picked up the RED (TPB) when it was originally released, nor have I read it since (Note to self: Pick that book up). Seeing his writing adapted for the big screen was a draw for me as well, but in the end neither the cast, nor the movie's comic book roots, was enough to get me in the theaters. I ended up seeing this movie thanks to my wife adding it to our Netflix queue.
When RED opens we are introduced to Frank Moses (Willis), a retired CIA agent who is a legend in the black-ops community. Frank is retired, living a quiet suburban life with little-to-no human contact, save for a strictly over-the-phone relationship he has with a woman working at his pension office (Mary-Louise Parker). Moses' new life is turned upside down when a government hit team breaks in to his house and tries to kill him in the middle of the night. Moses, being the supreme badass that he is, dispatches his would-be killers and goes on the run. He attempts to find out who is trying to kill him and why, seeking out members of his former team for assistance. All the while he is being pursued by CIA agent William Cooper (Urban) who is tasked with finishing the job the hit team started
The plot is pretty standard. Good guy is being pursued by hired killers. The killers work for the government. Good guy turns to his friends for help. Good guy finds out why people want to kill him and it goes deeper than he imagined. Good guy settles the score. Where this movie really succeeds is, not surprisingly, with its cast. The actors have great chemistry, and it is easy to believe that they share a long and interesting history. They kill for a living, but they are not cold and emotionless. You can see they care for each other like a family, albeit a dysfunctional one. The movie has a strong sense of humor throughout and never takes itself too seriously. Every performance is a little exaggerated, nothing over the top like, say, The Expendables, but just enough to make you shake your head and smile many times throughout the movie.
I have to give special recognition to John Malkovich. He's an actor who I forget how much I like his work until I see him in a movie. If you choose to watch this movie for his performance alone you will be more than satisfied. Malkovich plays Martin Boggs, a former member of Moses' team. During their heyday, Boggs was notorious for always worrying that the government was secretly subjecting him to a mind control project. The funny thing is, they were! He was given a dose of LSD everyday for 11 years! Needless to say the LSD had a profound effect. Boggs isn't all there. He still lives in constant fear of the government, satellites, microwaves, you name it, it scares the hell out of him. He lives underground, entirely off the grid, and forever remains a second away from gunning down anyone who "smells like Washington." The first time Malkovich appears on screen almost had me in tears. He is the movie's chief scene stealer.
The action sequences move quickly and are expertly shot. There is a scene early on in the film that involves Karl Urban's character crashing his SUV in to Willis' vehicle, causing both cars to spin out. Prior to impact, the camera pans 360 degrees inside Willis' car as he and his passenger speak, and it continues to spin along with them after the accident occurs. The shot doesn't last long but it brings the viewer in to the accident, causing you to feel the same dizzying effect as the characters involved. It was short, but a nice touch. It also ends with a little WTF moment that was so insane I actually hit the rewind button and watched it again. Much like the movie as a whole, most of the action scenes contain a good deal of humor, continuing the theme of being of a fun movie that refuses to take itself too seriously. And the main confrontation between Urban and Willis delivered on many levels.
RED isn't going to win any awards, nor is it original in any meaningful way. What the movie is though is fun. It's one of those movies that is nice to pop in and watch on a Saturday night when nothing else is on and you'd rather not sit through something too heavy. I'm not disappointed that I didn't see it in theaters, but it's worth a watch on DVD if you like the actors involved or the movie's overall premise. It's a solid three-star action flick with an A-list cast and several laugh-out-loud moments. Give it a shot if you have the opportunity.