Review: Red, White & Blue (2010)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #682

Number of Views: One
Release Date: October 8, 2010
Sub-Genre: Psychological Drama/Character Study
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 104 minutes
Director: Simon Rumley
Producers: Bob Portal, Simon Rumley, Adam Goldworm, Tim League
Screenplay: Simon Rumley
Special Effects: Meredith Johns
Cinematography: Milton Kam
Score: Richard Chester
Editing: Robert Hall
Studios: Rumleyvision, ScreenProjex, Fidelity Films
Distributors: IFC Midnight, Celluloid Nightmares
Stars: Noah Taylor, Amanda Fuller, Marc Senter, Nick Ashy Holden, Patrick Crovo, Jon Michael Davis, Saxon Sharbino, Mark Hanson, Robert Sliger, Emily Cropper, Mary Mathews

Suggested Audio Candy ♫

Lynyrd Skynyrd “Red, White & Blue”

Damaged goods. How many times have you heard those two words in your lifetime? Stay away from her, she’s “damaged goods”. It’s so easy to form a judgement based on precious little and this particular label is often used as a way of tidily pigeonholing someone whose actions we may not understand. Personally I’m of the belief that we’re all damaged in one way or another, disfigured by whatever traumas we have suffered over the course of our lifetimes, and would much rather attempt to comprehend a person than simply dismiss them out-of-hand. We tend to forget that, for every effect, there’s an underlying cause and that things are rarely as black and white as they may appear.

One such piece of spoiled merchandise is Erica, an attractive young woman in her twenties who seems to have turned reckless sexual behavior into an art form. She never sleeps with the same guy twice, is completely disinterested in forming any kind of emotional attachment, and flits from bar to bar, searching for meaningless one-night stands to walk away from come sunrise. Should this entail more than one suitor at a time, then all the better, as it cuts out all that bothersome intimacy stuff and helps her feel anonymous. However, while her numerous sexual partners may find her cold and calculating in her selection and blasé with regards to the act itself, her eyes tell an entirely different story.

You could consider Erica an unfeeling slut and her actions certainly won’t dissuade it, but you’d then be culpable of misreading her intentions entirely. Four drunken band members in one night may seem excessive, but the safety such numbers provides ensures she never has to leave herself prone to sentiment. Does she get fucked by strangers time and again because she’s a shameless slave to the cock? Or does it simply beat falling asleep alone night after night? Is there a reason why she seldom considers the feelings of others when engaging in these casual encounters? Perhaps it has something to do with her troubled past and how her mind was wired from an age far too tender not to realign her course perpetually.

Meet Nate, an “honorably discharged” Iraq war vet who just so happens to share the same boarding house as Erica. Nobody knows the trouble he’s seen and nobody knows his sorrow. Like Erica (outside of the bedroom), Nate keeps himself largely to himself, but there is something about this damaged young lady that he feels naturally drawn to and can genuinely identify with. He takes an interest in her well-being, is promptly and impolitely rebuffed, but refuses to form a half-cocked judgement on account of a little ego bruising. Instead, he acts out of kindness, something that Erica isn’t greatly familiar with and leaves the door open just in case her stance should soften.

How does one even begin to process acts of goodwill when it’s such an alien concept? Naturally Erica is going to be wary as Nate knows full well that her eyes betray her gestures and this has her feeling open and exposed. Gradually however, and only on her own terms, she begins to lower her formerly impenetrable guard. Perhaps it has something to do with Nate’s off-topic revelation that his own childhood was some way less than privileged. Or could it be the unconditional love that he offers, in exchange for just a few basic manners? Both are deeply flawed individuals, but together, they can reveal those imperfections without fear of discrimination. There’s something sweet, understated, and above all else, pure about their alliance.

Next up we have Franki, an impetuous wannabe rock legend whose garage band, The Exits, are on the verge of bigger and better things. However, while Franki’s occupational fortunes appear to be heading one way, this is tempered by the ever looming personal turmoil that threatens to engulf him. He worships his mother, and the fact that she is stricken with cancer and seemingly living on time borrowed only by interim remission, weighs decidedly heavy on his shoulders. Toss in a little additional burden courtesy of an unwanted diagnosis of his own that could directly affect the one person he holds dearer than any other, and you have yourself some severely damaged goods.

Red, White & Blue is a film of three very distinctive parts. Each of our tortured trio are placed front and centre in turn, an act at a time, and the triple-pronged tonal shift may well alienate many viewers who are looking to forge an investment. However, this is where anyone intimately familiar with the “damaged goods” label are better equipped to form a bond. Without exception, the three of them come across as either standoffish, hot-headed or both; but enough is revealed to look past these shortcomings and dig down to the true nuts and bolts. Conflict is a key word here as it drives the story on, but the fact that we’re supplied three-way perspective means we never view it as black and white.

British filmmaker Simon Rumley deals in real people, with real troubles and bona fide insufficiencies. Best known for his widely celebrated 2006 film, The Living and the Dead, the psychological condition is evidently of great fascination to him and Red, White & Blue approaches mental frailties in the kind of non-judgmental manner that is absolutely necessary to truly cut to the nerve. His film instantly calls to mind Steven Soderbergh’s flawless revenge-themed character study, The Limey, as we’re not asked to overlook any number of plainly visible character defects, so much as accept them for precisely what they are. Human.

None of this would be even vaguely possible without committed turns from its leads and it is here that Red, White & Blue hits emotional pay-dirt. Mark Senter really is up against it here as the character of Franki is two parts erratic and one grating.

He acquits himself decidedly well considering Rumley’s screenplay gives him perhaps a tad too much to juggle and, for the most part, his performance comes across as sincere and dedicated. That said, Nate and Erica warrant the crux of our speculation and the casting here is pivotal to securing our undivided attention.

English-Australian Noah Taylor has long been an actor I have quietly admired and versatility has never been an issue to him. Seldom provided the leading role his adaptability deserves, here he is allowed off-the-leash and plays against type like a kid in a playground. Intensity is his friend and ours too as it’s nigh-on impossible to look away from his road-mapped face for a solitary second.

His voiceless passion simmers constantly, occasionally spilling over into fits of measured rage that catch us totally unaware. All the while he has us pinned down like prey, watching intently as he prowls and prods our senses.

On this occasion however, even the mighty Noah has to be content with playing second fiddle. You see, Amanda Fuller’s tremendously courageous and nuanced turn staggers in a way that appears unthinkable given that she was hired on the Friday before shooting commenced. The grace with which she falls into the desperately tragic character of Erica at full wingspan only has to be seen to be believed.

Where Nate’s penetrating eyes cast a blackened veil across his soul, hers provide direct windows to within and she opens them wide. One tender moment shared, in particular, showcases her vulnerability so exquisitely that a thousand words are spoken in the silence. For all her self-serving sexual exploits, Erica’s true innocence trickles down her cheek in this moment, and we just want to kiss that one tear.

Red, White & Blue may come across as frosty and uncommunicative at first light but, just like the three inexplicably connected dots that join it together, there’s a warmth behind every last chill. Be advised, this is not a film for everyone as it requires you to chip away before revealing its beautiful scars and will likely frustrate all but the most reflective or “damaged” among us. But it’s true, it’s real, it’s clear and sincere; which makes its three colors pretty primary in my book.

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10

Grue Factor: 3/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: The violence here is both severe and unremitting, but that’s not to say it’s a bloodbath. Far from it in fact, Rumley uses his brutality sparingly and it punctuates the calm that much more decisively as a result. Certain savagery will linger far longer in your thoughts because of his refusal to do so with his lens and we’re left with the insinuation of these vile acts to ponder on. Meanwhile, Fuller spends the entirety of her screen time totally naked, but not necessarily in the way you’ll be expecting. You want to see laid bare? Then remove all make-up, grab the clapper board and “mark it”. You have my unending respect, Miss Fuller.

Read Drive Appraisal
Read I Spit on Your Grave (1978) Appraisal
Read Irréversible Appraisal
Read Alyce Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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1 Comment

  1. My favorite horror has its roots in the psychological. This seems like it would fit nicely in my wheelhouse. I will check it out. Great appraisal, Rich. And you are right. We are all damaged goods in some respects.

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