Red Lights – 2012
Written and Directed by Rodrigo Cortés
Starring Sigourney Weaver, Elizabeth Olson, Cillian Murphy, Robert DeNiro, Joely Richardson, Toby Jones, Leonardo Sbaraglia
One of the worst possible scenes anyone can do is to flip out in front of a television while watching someone or some thing. If they are doing this in front of someone, it seems like they are trying too hard to convince that person. If they are doing this in front of no one else, it looks like they are trying too hard to impress us. In Red Lights, it is meant to pass along information that is painfully obvious to the discerning viewer, but presumably clever to the film maker.
Cillian Murphy has a subtle quality to his performances most times. He has been a looming presence in the Batman / Dark Knight series, his eyes haunted 28 Days Later and there is a definite air of mystery to his character in Red Eye. This time, we get an example of over-reach.
From the moment that acclaimed psychic Simon Silver (DeNiro) is first seen, Murphy’s Acedemic Tom Buckley begins to pry off the hinges of his heretofore meek character. Almost every subsequent moment of Red Lights, we see Murphy in a breathless huff to prove that Silver is a fraud. His Professor Matheson (Weaver), is more cautious. She has crossed Silver in the past and came away with the only moment of doubt she experienced in her career of exposing psychic frauds. Along for the ride, but really of little consequence is Elisabeth Olsen, as “star student” Sally Owen.
The problem with the movie is the characters. Weaver’s professor is clever, but really transparently weakened, for the sake of the plot. I can’t remember seeing her so compromised in a film before. DeNiro’s “mysterious” Silver reminds me of the kind of characters Brando might play in the 20 years leading up to his death. DeNiro’s talent is not mystery…it’s passion and there is none of that, here. Olsen is carried around by the plot, mostly there to be dropped off when things get too dangerous.
Murphy is there mainly to be beaten, bloodied and to look sweaty and desperate. It’s not a good combo. There are so many obvious hints as to the true nature of his character. This movie does what it can to convince the viewer that he should not play a leading man. Again, it’s not the fault of the actor, so much as the script and direction.
Toby Jones has two modes, mastermind (Infamous and W.) and stooge (Captain America… and City of Ember). Here he is the latter, and adds nothing big to the proceedings. One of the good performances of the film is the ambiguous Monica Hansen (Richardson). Hers is the lone performance that allows any amount of intrigue. She is used quite effectively at first, but the second half of the film sees less of her, and less overall interest in what is going on.
Cortés is a director that had a good introduction to the big time with the low-budget Buried. Here he loses all the traction the success of that film provided. My guess is that he will have one more shot with a cast as good as this one. He better not go 1 for 6 next time. The pacing of the film is almost non-existent. It felt like it was 4 hours for its 113 minute running time. There are no memorable visuals, but for one curiosity When Weaver’s Matheson is in the hospital, Buckley and Owen visit. As they ponder over their professor, we see the person in the bed, who is a man who looks nothing like her.
“What’s the point of keeping him here like that?” asks Owen, watching the man with Buckley from a chair in the hospital room.
The same man seen in the bed later, during flashbacks is presumably killed by Buckley. No other mentions at all in the film in my recollection. My question, to the viewer matches the question of the entire film: what the hell is that?
(*1/2 out of *****)
P.S. – Thanks to a discerning viewer who hates my grammar (see comments), I have been informed that the man in the hospital bed is the son of Weaver’s character. This is important…for no particular reason. In retrospect, that he is waiting by the son’s side and is later found to be doing something physically to him makes no sense in the grand scheme of things. If you watch the movie and find it to be a sensible inclusion, please let me know, preferably by clawing my literary eyes out, as a vulture would a dying carcass.