Red | Animal Kingdom

Cinema reviews for Oct. 28

Directed by Robert Schwentke. Starring Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, Karl Urban, Rebecca Pidgeon, Morgan Freeman,  Ernest Borgnine, John Malkovich, James Remar, Brian Cox, Helen Mirren, Richard Dreyfuss, Julian McMahon. Written by Jon Hoeber & Erich Hoeber, based on the graphic novel by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner.

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Robert Schwentke´s Red is a perfect little timewaster, slick and polished and packed with enough outlandish action to overcome the frequent exposition lulls. It´s breezy fun that feels entertaining enough while you´re watching, so-so after the credits have rolled, then all but forgotten a few hours later.

The cast saves it; in tone and plot, this is the kind of direct-to-DVD fare that might star Tom Berenger squaring off against Billy Zane. But no, Red gives us Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Brian Cox and Mary-Louise Parker squaring off against Karl Urban, Rebecca Pidgeon, Richard Dreyfuss and Julian McMahon. And despite the spoofy tone, none of them phones it in; the cast here is always interesting to watch, even if we´d rather be watching them eat dinner.

Willis plays Frank Moses, a retired black-ops operative who tears up his pension check each month so he can call Kansas and speak to Sarah Ross (Parker) about having another one reissued. His humdrum suburban life is interrupted when a CIA team pumps thousands of bullets into his house; Moses cooks up a diversion and makes quick work of them, but someone seems to want him dead.

Why do they want him dead? CIA agent William Cooper (Urban) takes the order from his handler Cynthia Wilkes (Pidgeon) without asking questions; he does some digging around, though, and Ernest Borgnine shows up to describe Moses and explain the film´s title: Retired, Extremely Dangerous.

Moses is also interested in finding out why he´s become a target, so after a quick stop to pick up Sarah (their phone conversations have inadvertently made her a target, too) he pulls together his old team to solve the mystery. There´s Joe (Freeman), currently living in a retirement home and dying of cancer; Marvin (Malkovich), paranoid and living by a swamp hut; Victoria (Mirren), who seems to have settled down quite nicely; and Russian agent Ivan (Cox), a former enemy and Victoria´s old flame. Together, this team of retirees sets out to kick some ass.

That´s a lot of setup, and then there´s lots of plot and exposition and a convoluted backstory involving a 1981 mission in Ecuador. And despite the movie stopping every few minutes to explain itself, it still doesn´t make sense, or at least enough sense to explain why some characters are shooting at others beyond the information that some of them are “good” and some of them are “bad”. The ending, in particular, feels rushed and unsatisfying.

The tone of Red is light and goofy, but the script seems to lack actual jokes (outside of the standby action movie one-liners); it seems as if director Schwentke is trying to distance himself from a semi-serious screenplay (that began life as a graphic novel written by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner) by reminding us that he´s in on the joke.

Had Schwentke took the source material a little more seriously, Red was equipped with the production values and star power to succeed where Stallone´s The Expendables had failed; as it is, it´s another action-comedy in the vein of The A-Team, The Losers, Knight and Day, Killers, etc., with the minor novelty of an old-age cast. In other words, it spreads itself too thin and plays out too broad to really appeal to any particular demographic.

Got two hours to kill? Red is worth watching for the cast alone. If only to see how much talent can be wasted in mediocre fast-food product.



Animal Kingdom

Written and directed by David Michôd. Starring Ben Mendelsohn, Joel Edgerton, Guy Pearce, Luke Ford, Jacki Weaver, Sullivan Stapleton, James Frecheville, Dan Wyllie, Anthony Hayes, Laura Wheelwright, Mirrah Foulkes, Justin Rosniak, Susan Prior, Clayton Jacobson, Anna Lise Phillips.

Brooding and atmospheric, the Aussie crime saga Animal Kingdom is an incredibly well-composed feature debut from director David Michôd. It immediately ranks with the best of Australian crime movies, which include Chopper and Romper Stomper; but unlike those graphic, in-your-face cult classics, Animal Kingdom is a surprisingly mannered and introspective film that plays out like a Shakespearian tragedy.

From the opening frames, the film grabs hold and doesn´t let go: young highschooler Joshua ‘J´ Cody (James Frecheville) sits on a couch next to his motionless mother, watching a game show on TV. Paramedics show up. “What´s she on?” “Heroin.” His mother is dead, and probably has been for awhile, but you wouldn´t know it from Joshua´s emotionless eyes, which keep drifting back to the television.

Unsure how to proceed, Joshua phones up his grandmother Janine ‘Smurf´ (Jacki Weaver), who he hasn´t seen in years. There´s a good reason for that (even if the actual reason is a disagreement over the rules of a card game): granny is the Ma Barker-like matriarch of a family of outlaws, which include brothers Darren (Luke Ford), Craig (Sullivan Stapleton) and Andrew ‘Pope´ Cody (Ben Mendelsohn), and friend Barry Brown (Joel Edgerton).

Without many options, Joshua is thrust into this family´s life of crime; Craig is a drug dealer, and Pope and Barry are armed robbers. They´re currently laying low, with Pope in hiding following a successful job. The other side of the law isn´t much better: the first time we see the police they gun down an unarmed man inside of his car. Soon, a friendly detective (Guy Pearce) shows up to provide a potential out for Joshua: will he adapt to a life of crime, or turn against his family?

Animal Kingdom is a startlingly sparse and matter-of-fact film that frequently reminded me of Michael Mann´s Public Enemies. Director Michôd´s greatest strength, like his main character, is an emotional detachment from the events in the film that allows him to precisely document his characters and their situation without getting caught up in melodrama. The finale, in particular, is chilling and effective.

The cast is exceptional: young Frecheville carries the film with a quiet and affecting performance as the youth torn between right and wrong. Mendelsohn and (especially) Weaver are downright frightening in their roles; Weaver has a particularly unsettling scene late in the film where she explains the logic behind a startling decision.

An uneasy tension builds throughout Animal Kingdom, and it lingers even after the credits have rolled. Michôd manages to draw creepy vibes from the most mundane things, even Air Supply´s I´m All Out of Love. The film isn´t for everyone, but it won´t be easily forgotten.

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