Red 2010 US
Directed by Robert Schwentke
Playing at all good cinemas now!
When I went to see this movie called Red at the weekend I was fully expecting it to be a bit of a roller-coaster, at least in terms of it’s pacing, but I was also kinda expecting to be disappointed by it. It seems to be a universally well liked film and my response to those kind of “event movies” rarely cross-pollinate well with the opinions of the larger audience. I have to say, I was pleasantly proved wrong on my latter assumptions... but then Red has a secret weapon up it’s sleeve which I wasn’t aware of.
Things I knew about Red before I went:
1. It has a bunch of great actors - Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Brian Cox and Ernest Borgnine - and they are all playing their own age. This is about a bunch of retired hit-men/CIA agents.
2. It has a terrible poster and a terrible title.
3. It has Helen Mirren firing off a big machine gun.
Now quite frankly, the last item in that list kinda sold it to me. In fact the only way that this film could have appealed to me anymore than with that last proposition would have been if that last point had read... It has a naked Helen Mirren firing off a machine gun. Sadly, however, Helen keeps her kit on in this one but even so, this last thing is what got me into the cinema... that and the fact that I also like Bruce, Morgan, John, Brian and Ernest as actors.
What I didn’t know, however, was that this movie had a secret weapon of extra appeal and it’s a double whammy. Point 1... it’s based on a comic book. Point 2... it’s based on a comic book that was originally written by Warren Ellis. Now this second point is important because Warren Ellis was responsible for writing one of the best comics I’ve ever read... not the best, but certainly in the top 10 of all time great comic literature. It was a comic which ran for about 60 issues called Transmetropolitan and if you ever get the chance to check it out you should maybe peruse the pages of this because his slick, clever dialogue coupled with an absolutely amazing and innovative future world is pure artistry. And great art is good so go have a look. As it turns out, the wit of his words doesn’t quite translate as well as it might (is my guess not having read the comic on which this is based) but with a sound template to base your screenplay on... some of it has got to rub off on the writers, surely?
But, back to what should be my main point here... I think just recently, in the last ten years or so, Hollywood has really begun to wake up to the truly rich seam that comic books can offer them as basis for on-screen adventures. The comic book movie has been around since, pretty much, the dawn of film, but it’s only recently that US filmmakers have really given it a proper workout. I’ve been arguing for years now that comics have been so much more subtle and much more willing to push boundaries than movies and it’s not hard to see why (and if you’ve not read a comic book in the last 30 years, do yourself a favour and go and seek out something like Alan Moore’s truly sublime The Ballad of Halo Jones and find out how much of a brilliant literary experience you’ve been missing out on all these years). Comic books don’t have a budget of millions to lose, they are worked on by far less people and the good ones are usually creator led (as far as I can tell) and so these people can afford to take a few risks and push the envelope and talk about and explore subjects and taboos that movies will just shy away from as being suicidally uncommercial.
And even in action titles like Red they can be a good basis for narrative. These things are presented in a visual manner already, after all. Lot’s of mini “frames” of composition which are there to grab your attention. They an translate very well into movie frames (see Sin City, Watchmen, 300 etc). And the thing about comics is that they know action is not always about action. It’s about the build up and come down from the action. It’s not about the moment of the strike - you would not want to read a comic of endless consecutive panels of people firing machine guns endlessly (even if they are Helen Mirren naked) without being peppered with interesting characterisations and situations. And I think that’s what Hollywood is just beginning to pick up from “action” comics (and it’s something that Masters of Cinema like Kurosawa have known from their directorial birth - check out Yojimbo and others of that ilk... it’s all about what comes before and after the moment - not the bloody act of violence itself). It gives them an interesting framework and because the format of comics make them narrative heavy, that’s beginning (I think) to be taken up as an inspiration by the American film-makers whose films make up such a large percentage of the fodder dumped into our multiplexes.
Red has this awareness in spades and the location changes even echo a comic book sensibility - they are somewhat reminiscent of the spirit of the scene wipes in old TV shows like Batman and The Man From UNCLE and they fit in well with the fast pacing of the picture and the general sense of fun which comes across from the actors. And kudos to the few young people in it... Mary Louise Parker is just fantastic and as for Karl Urban (the new Doctor McCoy and Judge Dredd)... he’s just awesome and I’m really going to have to keep an eye on this guy.
Fast paced, funny and as slick a Hollywood action fest as you’re likely to see, Red is a lot of fun and though at least one issue covered is really quite terrible, the deftness with which it is handled is enough to distract you from it long enough that you won’t worry about it until the movie has ended.
If you like action and dialogue heavy humour, take a look at Red.
It’s got a fully clothed Helen Mirren shooting off all kinds of automatic weaponry!