The Way of the Word

14. October 2010

Movie Review: Red

USA 2010. Directed by Robert Schwentke. Starring Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Mary-Louise Parker, Morgan Freeman, Karl Urban. Runtime: 111 minutes

Retired CIA-agent Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) spends his time sitting at home being bored. The only highlight of his month is when he has an excuse to call Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) who handles his retirement checks, and who is as bored as he is.

Things change when a black-ops team invades his home one night and tries to kill him. Frank takes them out and goes on the run. Grabbing Sarah along the way to protect her, they go on a road trip across the US to find out who wants to kill Frank and why. Along the way, they recruit some of Frank’s old friends: Joe (Morgan Freeman), who enjoys retirement more than Frank does; Marvin (John Malkovich), a paranoid who knows that “they” are watching him; and Victoria (Helen Mirren), the world’s deadliest assassin. Hunted by CIA-agent William Cooper (Karl Urban), they discover why someone wants Frank and Marvin dead, and pool their considerable talents to turn the tables on them.

On the surface, Red is the fourth movie this year (after Losers, A-Team and Expendables) about an elite fighting team that takes on the CIA. It is, however, insulting to Red to name it in the same breath as the other three. Because it is by far the best variation of this tale. The writing is hilarious, the cast is terrific in their roles. Like Expendables, the old guns show the young guys that they have no reason to worry about the next generation. Said next generation, represented here by Karl Urban and Mary-Louise Parker, prove that they too can hold their own against the acting caliber that Red gathers.

Red is inspired by a comic written by Warren Ellis and drawn by Cully Hamner. Inspired by, because it has almost nothing in common with the comic. The comic is a dark and gritty affair, while the movie is a straight-on action comedy.  A comedy that allows itself almost no mis-steps (except for one predictable death and one CGI-effect that does not quite work).

Those who buy the comic because they like the movie will be disappointed that Marvin isn’t in the comic. Why Marvin? Because from the moment he literally jumps on the stage, John Malkovich owns the movie. His character is the funniest, the most over-the-top, the most fun to watch, and he has some of the best lines. (Although, to be fair, a lot of this is his delivery.) Malkovich, as Marvin, manages to steal scenes from Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman and Richard Dreyfuss — at the same time! I dare you to not crack up on “Old man, my ass.”

Willis falls victim to what I call “Michael Landon disease” – as he grows older, his face becomes less expressive. Morgan Freeman plays his usual “elder statesman”-character. Helen Mirren visibly enjoys her part of the kindly (grand-)motherly woman with the murderous edge. Mary-Louise Parker is a discovery as the bored accountant who gets dropped into a sudden life of adventure. “Awesome.”

Next to Malkovich, Karl Urban has the best role in the movie: the most three-dimensional character. Like Sarah, Cooper is allowed to change and grow in the course of the story, even though he sometimes comes across as the straight man to the Fab Five’s (or six, counting Brian Cox) shenanigans.

Nobody should go into Red for a brainless and juvenile action drama that tries so hard to be cool that it becomes the opposite (like several other movies this year). There is no drama in the story. (There isn’t much story, but unlike some other cases, the humor hits the spot, so it doesn’t matter so much.) There is just action and humor. And a body count.

Red is what the rest of this year’s actioners want to be when they grow up: the best actioner of the year.

Verdict: Very recommended



  1. Sounds good! I quite liked the trailer and I’ve had high hopes for this since then.

    Comment by Anders Gabrielsson — 14. October 2010 @ 16:02

  2. It’s one of the few cases where the trailers do not show all the good stuff. A lot of it, but not all of it.

    Comment by jensaltmann — 14. October 2010 @ 16:42

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