OMG did you miss me last week? I was…well, I’m an international woman of mystery, but suffice it to say, not much interweb availability, so no fangirling for me!
But I’m back, and I’d like to chat with you about one of my go-to films when I’m just feeling the need to not think too much about anything and to get caught up in an action flick (been feeling that way quite a bit lately…). And, frankly, it’s one of the only DC adaptations I actually like.
That film is RED (I’ll be chatting about RED 2 later on, another of my go-tos).
I decided to chat about it today because I just saw it again for about the 37th time (it shows quite a bit on TNT) and even when it’s showing on commercial TV, I still freaking watch it! Even though I own it in various formats! This film tends to suck me in no matter where it’s playing, dammit. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been minding my own business, going through mail or something and I’ll look up and see this movie playing on my teevee and BOOM I’m right there watching it. Doesn’t matter where in the film I start watching it. It sucks me in anyway.
Let us commence.
FIRST! OMG YOU GUYS THERE ARE SPOILERS IN THIS DISCUSSION. SERIOUSLY! SPOILERS BELOW!
Okay. You were warned.
RED (2010) is based on a DC comics miniseries about a retired black ops agent, Paul Moses, who just wants to hang out and be left alone. In the comics, a new CIA director comes into power and decides Moses is too big a threat (all the see-krits he has!) to be left alive, so he sends all kinds of assassins to take him down. Moses proves that even older retired guys can still be badasses. And, as an aside, RED means, in the movie, “Retired, Extremely Dangerous.” (I’m kind of going for that image in my own retirement…)
The movie follows this premise loosely. Frank Moses (name change from comics), played by Bruce Willis (say what you will about Willis offscreen; he makes a great action hero), is retired and living in the ‘burbs somewhere. He also has a crush on a younger woman. Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker) works at the veterans’ affairs office that sends out his monthly checks and he pretends to “lose” those checks so he can call and talk to her. She tells him about the romance novels she’s reading and they chit-chat and it’s actually really cute.
But all is not as it seems, and Frank realizes that somebody is out to kill him, exemplified about 15 minutes into the film when we see Frank obviously preparing for hostilities and then a bunch of black ops-looking folks emerge from the surrounding suburban foliage firing the hell out of their assault weapons into his house. But Frank’s a black ops expert, so he knows when things are amiss, and he has safeguards in place.
Here’s that scene:
So he escapes, and drives to Kansas City to get Sarah because he figures that if somebody’s been watching him, they’ll see that he called her numerous times and that puts her in danger. I’m not going to tell you how THAT went down, but initially she wasn’t thrilled but then settled right into the cat-and-mouse life of being on the run. At any rate, Frank has an inkling of what’s happening — basically, he and a few other folks were involved in an op in Guatemala that is super top secret, but somebody is killing people who were involved in that op (and we find out why later on) and Frank goes to not only warn who he can, but get some help to stop the madness. That help includes fellow retired ops Joe Matheson (Morgan Freeman), Marvin Boggs (a hilarious John Malkovich), and my personal fave, Victoria, played by the incomparable Helen Mirren. He also gets help from an older Russian op, Ivan (yeah, I know — Russian guy named Ivan; played by Brian Cox) who was in the game years back, working against them, but now they’re on okay terms.
So after he has his crew together, off they go to find the source of the assassination attempts (which includes breaking into the CIA) and to figure out who’s doing it and why. They determine that there is a government plot afoot, along with politics, and they hatch their own plan to put a stop to it which eventually involves crashing a rally for a vice presidential candidate.
Why I dig this film:
1. The characters. They’re a quirky bunch, and their interactions are funny, sometimes poignant, and spot-on. These are characters you can totally see as actual people. Black ops notwithstanding. Malkovich as the paranoid, conspiracy-addled former op Boggs is a delight, especially when it turns out he’s usually right. LOL Or at least on the right track. Joe (Freeman) is having health issues in a nursing home of some sort, but he’s still got tricks up his sleeves, as you’ll see. And Helen Mirren as an assassin retired from MI6 is just…I can’t even. I’ll talk about her in a bit. Bruce Willis as Frank Moses was really well-cast, I thought. He’s a guy who’s really good at black ops, and even though he’s older, he’s always thinking about how to deal with specific situations. He’s kind of a mellow, “aw shucks” guy who falls for Sarah, and the irony there is that here he is, trying to maybe leave the life of an ops guy and he meets a woman who wants nothing more than to have adventures along the lines of ops people. His dynamic with her isn’t fly-off-the-screen instant passionate chemistry. Rather, it’s a sweet, slow build and they come to learn a lot about each other. One of the funnier aspects of the Frank/Sarah pairing is Boggs giving relationship advice to Frank.
2. Helen Mirren. Did I freaking mention Helen Mirren? As an assassin “retired” from MI6? Seriously. I’m probably biased, because I love practically anything Helen Mirren does (she could sit on an empty stage and read from a phonebook and I’d pay to see it). But here, she just quietly owned the screen whenever she was on it, in her classy understated dry way. There’s just something about Helen Mirren dressed in eveningwear shooting the hell out of something or taking guys down without even messing up her hair that just makes me swoon. She doesn’t get as much screentime as Willis and Malkovich and Parker, but when she’s on, she is ON. She, too, has allegedly “retired” to a house in the English countryside, but she’s on board to help the crew in their quest to uncover the root of this plot, so she puts on her winter camo and joins the fray. Seriously. Helen Mirren has such an awesome James Bond vibe. Loved her in this, though she needed more screentime.
3. Strong dialogue, witty, snappy banter. I’m a sucker for political intrigue mashed into thrillers, and I’m even more of a sucker when the characters banter back and forth. The dialogue here just works throughout, and the actors portrayed a vibe of all of these people having longstanding relationships, which is exactly what they’re supposed to have had. So their backstories get revealed in bits and pieces through dialogue and banter and basic interactions. Sometimes, banter doesn’t work — humor is hard to do well, especially when dealing with dark subjects — but here, it helped carry the action and vice-versa. It proved a great vehicle for characterization and pacing.
and speaking of pacing…
4. Pacing! Good scenes tied together with logical plotlines and plot twists. Even in the slower parts of this film — slow in the sense that nobody’s shooting at them and there isn’t hand-to-hand combat — you’re still engaged because of the strength of the characters and the dialogue.
5. Action. This is a tightly plotted film, with its share of violence, but not over-the-top blood and gore. Frank has a well-choreographed fight scene with one of the CIA muckety-mucks, and that involves some blood and bruising, and there are some shoot-outs that are very loud and a scene where a couple of people get blown up but you don’t really see the details. Here’s that fight scene, by the way:
6. I dug the “age ain’t nothin’ but a number” vibe. The main crew is largely retired, and there are a few ageist jokes in the film that the crew quickly dismantles with their actions. I dug that. I hope that’s me later on, doing all the black ops at age 60+! I liked that it tackled stereotypes about aging and put these people in this film to prove all that crap wrong.
7. Shout-outs to the original comic at certain scene changes. The film would include graphics that mimicked the comics at some intervals in the film, which gave it a cool comic-y touch. You’ll see what I’m talking about when you watch the film. It made it feel like a live-action comic in some ways, which I enjoyed.
Let’s talk a bit about cons. No, this movie doesn’t quite pass the Bechdel Test, though Victoria and Sarah do have a moment when they’re crouched in the snow outside a secret retreat of sorts. Victoria is monitoring in sniper position while Sarah is next to her and they do talk about Frank, but they also wonder about things happening at the retreat, and what the next plan is. There is also no queer rep in this film, which doesn’t automatically make it anti-LGBT. It’s just…not there and there’s no real discussion of it anywhere though I kind of suspect that the character of Marvin Boggs could conceivably be ACE (asexual). And frankly, it’s not really a film that lends itself to queer rep, so if that’s what you’re desperate to see, look elsewhere.
We got a bit of POC rep with Morgan Freeman’s character, but he didn’t have a lot of screen time though when he was on screen, he was awesome. But there’s a trope fulfillment that sucks: Freeman’s character does not survive. And yes, that’s a spoiler, but you were warned above.
Could we call this film “feminist”? Well, it’s not “anti-feminist.” And it’s not overtly feminist, either. None of the guy characters run around talking about how women can’t do anything, and even Sarah, who is totally not trained in anything, is engaged in the action, but (SPOILER!) she does have to be rescued by Frank, which is another trope. Still, she doesn’t come across as a damsel in distress — rather, she’s an inexperienced civilian caught up in events that are beyond her control, so in that sense, it makes sense that she’d be the one to fall into the wrong hands. But Victoria, too, ends up having to be rescued, but with regard to that, she was (SPOILER) shot in the hip and couldn’t walk very well and was bleeding so Ivan gets her out of the bad situation. So that was trope-y. The two women characters both end up having to be rescued by dudes.
So why do I fangirl over it? It’s a fun, quirky action film with HELEN MIRREN as an assassin. I mean, what the hell? Sold right there. And this crew — Freeman, Willis, Malkovich, and Mirren — make a hell of a team. Mary-Louise Parker is brought into the team as part of it (granted, through her relationship with Frank), but she’s part of what they’re up to and she’s privy to information and she’s involved in their counterplots. I also like how the flavor of the comics was retained in the film, giving it a fun, over-the-top vibe and added to its quirkiness.
Basically, it’s pure cotton candy action fluff (DID I MENTION HELEN MIRREN) with a plot that holds together pretty well, and great, strong characters.
Here’s the trailer:
Happy Friday, all! And may the odds be ever in your favor.