Red (or R.E.D.) is such a breath of fresh air. It’s fun, it’s light, it’s well-acted and just a joy to watch. A great ensemble cast with remarkable chemistry, a nifty little plot, cool action, there’s really no stone left unturned in terms of what this movie has done right. It’s so rare to see an action/comedy that balances both the action and comedy in such a perfect manner. One doesn’t overbear the other, nor does it ever tire out or feel unnecessary at any given time. It just flows. Red finds that perfect balance between the two and is a film that not only is fun, and looks like it was a blast to make, but it’s good-natured spirit will surely rub off on the audience. Alright, let’s get that synopsis out the way!
Based on the cult D.C. Comics graphic novel by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner, Red is an explosive action-comedy starring Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich and Helen Mirren. Frank (Bruce Willis), Joe (Morgan Freeman), Marvin (John Malkovich) and Victoria (Helen Mirren) used to be the CIA’s top agents – but the secrets they know just made them the Agency’s top targets. Now framed for assassination, they must use all of their collective cunning, experience and teamwork to stay one step ahead of their deadly pursuers and stay alive. To stop the operation, the team embarks on an impossible, cross-country mission to break into the top-secret CIA headquarters, where they will uncover one of the biggest conspiracies and cover-ups in government history.
Red is about fun, and I think that’s pretty apparent even without seeing the movie. Remember those trailers and TV spots of Malkovich running crazily with bombs strapped to his chest, or the awesome Mirren being impossibly awesomer by unleashing wave after wave of bullets on her foes? And as over-the-top or loony as those may seem, they work so well in context of the movie, balancing out the action nicely. It may seem extreme but, somehow, Director Robert Schwentke just makes it work. The movie just cackles with this inexplicable energy that just pushes it right along, ending before you even realize that. How the story unfolds, in a gradual manner and never revealing the full plot until very late in the game, also helps I find.
And while the smart way the film unfolds the plot does help with the movie’s brisk pace, the tone and the cast are the two big reasons why Red works. The premise of the film helps, yes, but the cast and the tone just makes us believe these characters. It allows us to imagine them as fully-fleshed out people, not two-dimensional cut-outs meant to serve the scripts purpose. Sure, we get a couple of the usual types, such as the crazed, unhinged agent (Malcovich), but the movie allows the audience to latch on to these characters as if we already know them. The way the film films in their backstory, their current situation, all of it, whether it’s in clever cutaways or snappy dialogue, we’re built these great ideas of how efficient and close these characters used to be, which makes us care even more when the gang comes back together when their lives fall into jeopardy.
And as cool as it is seeing spies do their thing, I think the real pull for this movie is that fact that they’re all retired, but called back into action. There’s an underlying cool factor to the idea. To see them, even after being placed in rest homes or shuffling around an empty house, when they’re called back into duty everything just falls effortlessly into place. It’s a pretty cool to see these characters or a certain age just kicking butt as well (and usually better, I might add) then their younger counterparts. There’s a great fight scene between Willis and Karl Urban, playing a CIA agent tasked with bringing in Willis, that’s just perfectly staged. It’s probably the only action sequence that’s really played straight, the rest seem to be more tongue-in-cheek and playing up the angle of the “old guys” versus the younger. Well, the aforementioned fight scene between Urban and Willis does as well, but it’s less bouncy (for lack of better word) than the others. Still, all the action sequences are handled superbly and, at times, are surprisingly graphic and elicit a good chuckle or two.
And while the film may have huge action sequences and some great laughs, what’s amazing is how understated the film is. The film feels so…modest compared to other action movies which just revel in how cool the film supposedly is. In fact, this film is pretty much the exact opposite of a Michael Bay movie. Again, we get big explosions and great action sequences, but it’s done with a modest approach. And, honestly, the movie is better for it. It gives the movie a real, warm feeling, never once feeling cold or artificial.
Red has an undeniable charm. It’s a fun movie with an excellent cast and an enjoyable plot, with the film unfolding at its own pace. While it may drag here and there, the character interactions and action sequences are able to give the film the boost it needs to keep moving to its very satisfying conclusion. Red manages to walk that fine line that many action/comedies almost perfectly, delivering plenty of each to keep the audience well entertained. The film’s modest sensibilities, even with such a stellar and enormous cast, gives the film that crucial edge to keep it from feeling too overblown or bombastic. It’s a fun, simple adventure with plenty of laughs and some well put-together action sequences. It’s a perfect flick to check out and worthy of repeat viewings. It’s a given to mark this film off as Highly Recommended, no question.
Red finds a home in a standard single disc Elite Blu-ray case—and that’s it, really. No DVD copy, no digital copy…nothing. Kind of an odd “Special Edition” release when that’s all we get in the set, but good enough I suppose.
Moving onto the AVC encoded 1080p 2.40:1 transfer we get the usual flawless presentation out of the Blu-ray format you expect. The majority of the film oozes detail out of all of the frames, boasting plenty of detail in the myriad of sequences that range from city to dark and dank rooms. On top of that we have plenty of detail on character faces and the like. The audio matches the visual presentation with incredible dexterity. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix thuds and booms at every turn, spreading the love around to all of the surrounds and making full use of the LFE output. It’s a goofy film at times and the lightheartedness comes through with the engaging and entertaining surround mix. Everything from dialogue to gunfire (of which there is plenty) comes through with great clarity—just what you’d expect out of a film adapted from a DC Comics graphic novel.
Audio Commentary – with retired CIA Field Officer Robert Baer
Deleted and Extended Scenes (8:46, 1080p)
Access: Red – PiP track with tons of behind the scenes info
The “Access: Red” is a very nicely executed feature as it takes the usual picture-in-picture mode that a lot of Blu-ray’s have utilized and really just makes it a lot more…friendly to watch. No awkward stops in the film (courtesy of a countdown timer so you know when something is going to pop up) to watch a featurette and…well, that’s it really. It’s just a very basic track but it’s nicely done, which makes it all the more pleasant. The commentary is a delight to listen to as well as Baer divulges not only information on what it was like to consult on this film but also some genuinely interesting behind-the-scenes information of the CIA (though obviously not too much). Deleted scenes are fairly interesting as well and there’s a bonus easter egg (on a Blu-ray!? How rare…) that takes a look at the SFX in the film.
Overall a great little disc for a very entertaining film. Overall a Recommended release.
Red is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
Film review by James Harvey
Blu-ray review by Zach Demeter