Red White & Blue

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 03/31/10 03:09:24

"Something vicious inside."
5 stars (Awesome)

SCREENED AT THE 2010 BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL: "Red White & Blue" takes its time messing the audience up. Even the big event that pulls everything together takes a few scenes to really sink in, as we connect just what's been going on with a growing horror. For the most part, that works to director Simon Rumley's advantage, until the movie has gone from a slow burn to a prolonged end.

Erica (Amanda Fuller) is living on the margins in Austin; maybe she's a runaway. Right now, she's trading chores for a room in a boarding house, though she spends a lot of single nights in random men's beds. Nate (Noah Taylor) is an Iraq War veteran in the same place, and takes an interest in Erica, getting her a job at the local building and supply when the landlady starts insisting she pay rent. She won't sleep with him, though. And Franki (Marc Senter) is a garage musician whom we don't see much until after we've gotten to know Erica and Nate, although he does show up earlier. Things are finally starting to happen with his band, he's ready to get serious with his girl, and his mother's cancer seems to be going into remission. And then...

Well, the "and then" is something that's a giant kick to the gut under the best of circumstances. Then we connect it to a line from earlier in the film, and realize the situation is much worse than we'd thought, and could be worse still. Which it is, because from this point on, Rumley is intent on taking what we'd been seeing as decent, if flawed, people and shows us just what sort of ugliness tragedy can bring out in them. And, fair warning, that ugliness is not for the weak of heart.

Rumley doesn't show all the violence that ensues - in fact, looking back upon the movie, I realize that most of the very worst things that happen occur off-screen, and the act of revenge that is the most horrific may not even happen at all (I think it does, though it's perhaps more unnerving to not know where that character's mind is at). He shows enough, though, and in such a way as to make it clear that there will be no vicarious thrills in this revenge film, and keeps things tense enough that we think that we've seen more than we have. Sometimes we see the whole thing, sometimes it's the aftermath, sometimes it's just the reaction of the characters; the result is always that we feel as though we've been forced to see the whole thing.

There are a couple of sources for that realism. First, there's the locations Runley and company choose in and around Austin; they're almost uniformly blue-collar, a little run-down, either too cramped or half-abandoned. It's the less-prosperous side of the town that hosts festivals and self-identifies as hip and weird. Second, there's the way each of the main characters has a circle that doesn't necessarily intersect with the others: The old landlady at Erica's boarding-house, or the kid she befriends at a park, or Franki's band, mother, and stepfather. That Nate doesn't have many of these connections except through Erica may be telling.

And, of course, there's the cast themselves; all three leads are excellent. Amanda Fuller is fascinating to watch slowly get her head straight, going from bratty to having a sense of worth, and the scene where she tells us just what is up with her character is remarkable; callous and emotionally scabbed over rather than spittingly bitter. Marc Senter does a good job with the nice-guy thing; it's partly a necessity, so we don't get impatient when the focus shifts to Franki after we've gotten invested in Erica and Nate, but the variations are interesting. He lets us see a little insincerity when he's trying to use his genial nature, and he seems flabbergasted by his own rage. Nate, on the other hand, is familar with his demons, and Noah Taylor is absolutely excellent at showing a man by turns trying to live a quiet life and one letting his anger out with frightening direction.

How anger comes out in the last act is where I start to stumble somewhat on how to rate or recommend "Red White & Blue". It's overpowering and ugly, but meant to be so. Simon Rumley pushes right up to the line between where the violence makes one feel stunned and powerless, and where one disengages and thinks about whether he's gone too far. Seeing it as the third envelope-pushing film of the day messes with one's judgment even more, so I'll round up, but be warned: It is certainly not for everyone, despite the high rating.

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