|Image: Trinity Filmed Entertainment|
Writer/director Simon Rumley’s follow up to his acclaimed debut The Living and the Dead caused a bit of a stir when it hit US festivals last summer but we’ve had to wait until now to see a UK release.
Promiscuous Erica has two rules: she doesn’t sleep with the same person twice and she doesn’t do friends. But when she meets enigmatic veteran Nate (Noah Taylor), she slowly lets her guard down and the two damaged souls form a fragile bond. However, Franki (Marc Senter), one of her one-night-stands, is looking for her. Franki’s got a score to settle with Erica but Nate’s on his tail.
At first glance, Red White & Blue would appear to be a generic revenge movie. Erica is kidnapped by Franki, and Nate will stop at nothing to get her back. But Rumley does two things to separate his film from the pack. The first is to create three distinct, memorable, complex characters. Nothing is black and white here.
Erica’s compulsive sexual acts seem to be joyless and she tells one partner “condoms are for homos”, but we’re also shown her acts of kindness towards a young boy and his family. Nate’s polite and generous to Erica, but it’s not hard to see there’s something not quite right about him. Meanwhile, Franki’s life is in a tailspin with his girlfriend gone and his mother undergoing cancer treatment. Just when things start looking up, he gets the news that sets the brutal events of the second half in motion, and we discover the reason behind Erica’s behaviour. Almost everything we learn about these characters alters our perception of them, and our sympathies are constantly shifting. The three leads also do a superb job of bringing these three difficult characters to life. Fuller is fearless, Senter (Cabin Fever 2) does well to keep Franki’s journey plausible, and Taylor makes it impossible to take your eyes off him.
The second distinguishing feature of the film is its structure. RW&B is split into two parts, the first of which is slow-paced, with naturalistic dialogue as we get to know the characters better. Rumley cited Larry Clark (Kids, Bully) as an influence for this first half, and it’s a fitting comparison. The southern small town isn’t shot flatteringly but believably, and the same goes for the sex scenes. Then the second part starts, Noah Taylor takes centre stage, and suddenly it’s a horror film. Most recently seen by UK audiences as the depressed but well-meaning dad in Submarine, the Australian character actor is almost unrecognisable here. From the moment he starts his search for Erica, with a hunting knife and rolls of tape hanging from his belt, he’s a terrifying force of nature. He’s reminiscent of Paddy Considine’s avenger in Dead Man’s Shoes except, as he tells a hapless victim, he enjoys it.
The violence of the third act will almost certainly be too much for some viewers, and, although it’s well done, the film does lose a little of its unpredictability by the end. There’s an inevitability to the blood-drenched final act that is almost certainly intentional, but a bit disappointing. However, it’s still superbly done and watching Taylor wreak bloody revenge is horrifyingly effective and unflinchingly nasty.
Verdict: Tough, clever, and brutal with three outstanding performances.