SXSW Film Review: Red White & Blue
Red White & Blue (2010)
Directed by: Simon Rumley
Starring: Amanda Fuller, Noah Taylor, Marc Senter
Review by: Britt Hayes
Erica has some issues. Every night she heads out into the city of Austin and finds a different man to have sex with, often unprotected. She rents a room in a house and cleans the place in exchange for free rent. She keeps a photo album filled with pictures of all the men she’s had sex with, and uses an American flag as a blanket. One night she hooks up with a band and has sex with a few of the band members. She makes it clear to the men she sleeps with that condoms aren’t an issue, she doesn’t stay the night, she doesn’t fuck the same man twice, and she doesn’t make friends.
Enter Nate. He’s a quiet but intimidating former military man, honorably discharged from service for reasons undisclosed. He’s laying low and renting a room in the same house as Erica, whom he’s taken an interest in. Nate helps Erica get a job at a local lumber and home improvement supply chain, and starts to notice her odd self-destructive habits. At first, Erica is determined to keep her guard up, but something about Nate’s mysterious character attracts her, and the two form an unlikely bond.
On the other side of town, Franki – one of the band members Erica had sex with – is dealing with his own problems. He’s been taking care of his cancer-stricken mother for some time now, and to make matters worse, he discovers that there were some serious ramifications from his one night stand with Erica. Their two lives intersect again in a dark and disturbing way, especially when you add Nate to the mix.
Red White & Blue punches you right in the gut without mercy during the last half hour of the film. There are some difficult scenes to watch, made only more trying because of the emotional subtext. The film starts slow with little dialogue as we follow Erica around on her self-deprecating sexcapades, and these are shot unflinchingly with little flattery to her character. We don’t know Erica’s back story, and by the end of the film, it’s almost for the best. As an audience, we can connect with her almost immediately without knowing why she is the way she is. With an explanation, her behavior might not be as effective, and would almost be diminished, in a sense. The same goes for Noah. There’s no affirmation of his past, and like Erica, we just have to trust that he is who he says he is and that his goodwill toward Erica is genuine. This lack of character back story helps submerge the audience into the full experience. The only disconnect, as described below, comes with the lack of a Director of Photography to execute the look of the film properly. Most audiences would be unable to get past how low-budget the film looks to truly connect with the characters.
Red White & Blue also introduces some interesting conversation about the concept of revenge. When is it okay to exact revenge? Ever? Who is it okay to involve in said revenge? What makes a man like Noah crack, and are we more accepting of his actions later in the film because of his connection to the military? Red White & Blue examines these things, and I think pushes us to examine our connection to the military and the government in this country, and why we might be okay with someone in that position acting out violently over some regular Joe (or in this case, Franki) who has worked hard for his dream, and spends his days caring for his sick mother before coming to terms with his own personal tragedy. Some may not agree, and I’m not saying it’s okay or not okay for military personnel to do certain things. As a reviewer, it’s not my place to discuss politics with you. That’s for another forum. What I can say is that Rumley effectively brings these questions and ideas to the forefront and challenges you to consider these actions in a moral context.
The end result is deeply affecting, on an emotional and visual level. Director Simon Rumley shot the film on the RED camera on a budget of about $1 million – short change these days – on location in Austin, with the help of executive producer Tim League (owner of the Alamo Drafthouse). Red White & Blue looks passable during the day scenes, but suffers from the lack of a DP, especially during the night scenes, which often look blurry and grainy. If not for the impeccable casting choices of Taylor and Fuller, the film would suffer at the hands of merciless critics. Rumley clearly has the directing talent, and given a more substantive budget and a talented DP, he could go pretty far.
Noah Taylor is nothing less than perfect in his role as Nate. He’s creepy, but keeps it just at the right level where you want to trust and like him as a character. Amanda Fuller plays Erica sympathetic but not pathetic. I almost hate to admit this openly to the public, but I could sympathize with her character. You have to know that something, even if it’s never spoken, happened to her to make her want to go and fuck a different guy every night on some sort of sexual death wish kick, and I understand that feeling completely.
Some have complained about the choice of Marc Senter in the role of Franki, but I disagree. Having seen him in the film adaptation of Jack Ketchum’s The Lost, I can say with confidence that Franki is a totally different character than Ray Pye. If you hadn’t seen him in something else, I can understand how it would be easy to think he was awful, but in my opinion, he was just doing a damn fine job of playing a pathetic character.
I’m not sure of the distribution situation for Red White & Blue. During the post-film discussions while waiting in line for Serbian Film (I must have wanted to punish myself Sunday night with that double feature), someone suggested that a studio might buy the film, give Rumley a budget and a DP, and have him remake the film to look more palatable for a larger release. It’s a possibility, but I find it hard to believe that Rumley could get the same performances from these actors a second time around, and a studio giving a director that kind of money always comes with strings attached. They could try to replace the actors, and I just don’t want to see Red White & Blue with any big names attached. These actors did an incredible job, and if (that’s a big IF) Rumley does remake it with a larger budget, they should not be replaced. Personally, I see someone like Lionsgate or Anchor Bay picking it up and giving it a small, indie theatrical run in select cities before shipping it straight to DVD. That’s fine. It will find a following.
Horror fans will go into this seeking a good genre film. They won’t find it here, but they will not be disappointed by the narrative.