Directed by Robert Schwentke
Starring Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker, Karl Urban, Brian Cox, Morgan Freeman, Ernest Borgnine, James Remar, Rebecca Pidgeon, Julian McMahon, Richard Dreyfus
Screenplay by Jon and Erich Hoeber
RED is a movie that is in no way in love with itself. There are many people here enjoying themselves, but the participants are too long in the tooth to imagine they have any pride to protect. As retired CIA black ops agent Frank Moses, Bruce Willis has taken up a long distance friendship with Sarah (Parker) at his pension office in Kansas City. This routine is about to be stepped up by Frank, when he tells her he wants to meet her in Kansas City. It’s stepped up even further when a team of assassins tries to kill him, thereby destroying his house. Frank decides to hit the road early, with more assassins in tow.
Why are the assassins after him? Frank would like to know, but first, he needs to get to Sarah to protect her. If they have followed Frank, he knows they know about her. Sarah, arriving home after a bad date, is surprised to find not only Frank waiting there, but that he had taken the time to tidy up while he waited. It is this kind of detail that sets RED apart from most action movies. From most movies in general, for that matter.
From here, Frank takes a somewhat unwilling Sarah on the road with him slightly ahead of the goon squads led by CIA Agent William Cooper played by a delightfully stoic Karl Urban, who expounds on his less is more skills that he used so well in 2008’s Star Trek. Cooper is on the mission at the behest of his handler, Cynthia Wilkes. Who Wilkes reports to, nobody knows, but will certainly be revealed in time.
Frank moves from K.C. to NOLA to find his mentor, Matheson (Freeman) who spends much of his off-screen time being presumed dead. Matheson tells Frank that there is a connection between the his attackers, former members of his team in a 1981 project in Guatemala and a dead NY Times reporter. Tracking the last 2 members of his team Boggs (an unhinged genius Malkovich) and Singer (Remar), they head further down the rabbit hole. Along the way, they pick up dangerous allies, like Russian secret agent Simonov (a delightfully obtuse Brian Cox) and a deadly assassin Victoria (an incredibly alluring wielding a gun Mirren).
The performances in this film are sublime. Bruce Willis has not been this good in anything in his career, outside of the Die Hard series. This franchise could be as big as that one, for the AARP set. He is not nearly as wisecracky, but then, he has many others along to offer those. His chemistry with Parker is spot on for a couple of people getting on in the years, realizing not only that they don’t want to be alone, but they also would prefer to stay alive.
As the determined, yet sensible agent Cooper, Karl Urban has finally
gotten the role that could push him to the next level. Years after his breakthrough role as Eomer in The Lord of The Rings, Urban has been steady in great films like The Bourne Supremacy and the afore mentioned Abram’s classic. He was the film’s most pleasant surprise for me.
There is a special place in all men’s hearts for a woman who knows how to handle a gun, and Helen Mirren does not disappoint. Playing a retired assassin looked incredibly natural for one who was not experienced with a variety of weaponry. Her presence countered Parker’s in the best way possible, providing a couple of the movie’s best scenes.
Providing many of the other best moments is Malkovich, at home playing the looniest bird the other side of Christopher Walken. He is unhinged in the most effective way possible. Seeing him haul around a stuffed pig was a treat, but the last thing
he does to Richard Dreyfus is something many of us have wanted to do to him for a long time, and, yes, I felt better when he did it. It might be that he is in so many films, but I don’t think one can appreciate Malkovich enough.
Brian Cox chews his scenery with relish. Such is his career that I spent much of the film anticipating his turn to bad guy. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised the way it turned out.
Schwentke is making a nice little career for himself, with Flightplan and the underrated The Time Traveller’s Wife to his recent credit. He combines great cinematography, witty dialogue provided by the brothers Hoeber, great acting scenery and, most importantly, nuance to permeate the film. None of these traits are common in action films, much less those based on comics.
This is the kind of film everyone 12 and over would have fond memories of decades after viewing, much like Romancing the Stone. I do hope the sequels of this film turn out better than the Jewel of the Nile. With the acting and directing talent here, that should not be a problem.
(****1/2 out of *****)