Published at: Oct. 5, 2010, 4:23 a.m. CST by headgeek
RED WHITE BLUE
The slow burn is a dangerous technique, especially in the modern age of video on demand and direct to DVD releases. A theatrical audience is, to some extent, stuck with your movie and will be more willing to let you slowly pay out your plot, but a home video audience may just give you a couple of minutes before stuffing the disc back in the Netflix envelope. Red White & Blue is a movie that takes the slow burn concept to the extreme - at points I was wondering when anything would come together or when the story would start - but makes it work incredibly well. The slow first half is entirely worth it for the gut punch second half, a morass of violence and moral grey areas that could divide audiences for years to come.
Writer/director Simon Rumley hedges his slow burn bets by having some nudity and graphic sex up front, as we're introduced to Amanda Fuller's Erica. A sexual drifter, Erica jumps from bed to bed in Austin, Texas, never sleeping with the same guy twice and never staying the night. She's dead inside, and the dirty fucks make her feel something, but maybe there's a more sinister side to it all. After she screws an entire band, including mama's boy Franki, played by Cabin Fever 2's Mark Senter in cinema's most douchetastic hipster wardrobe and earring, Erica ends up living in a house with tall, thin and weathered Nate. Played with a smoldering intensity by Noah Taylor (who you might remember from Almost Famous or Shine), Nate's a guy with a bad past who is trying to do some good. He may have feelings for Erica, but he's not looking to take advantage of her like every other guy in Austin, and is trying to help her out.
But soon things get bad. I can't spoil it for you, but Red White & Blue is an entry in a popular category at Fantastic Fest this year - Movies In Which People Are Tied to Chairs. You've surely heard of love triangles, but Red White & Blue boasts one of cinema's few revenge triangles. What's more, each side of that triangle kind of has a point; Rumley creates a balance where you understand where each person is coming from, even as they visit horrific violence upon each other (or upon each other's loved ones).
Like I said, it takes a while to get to that point, but once it does Red White & Blue boils over with intensity. Tough and sort of mean, Red White & Blue makes you squirm without being the most graphic film you've ever seen. Sure, there are graphic moments of torture and murder, but Rumley makes you do much of the work, suggesting horrors that your brain fills in. This is a hardcore film, but it's never as graphic as it feels.
That's a sign of great filmmaking.
Even without going for hypergraphic gore, Red White & Blue is deeply unsettling, but often in an emotional way. The pain on display isn't just physical, but also raw and emotional. And each side of the triangle is well represented. Every motivation - even ones that at first seem capricious and cruel - comes from character and has, if not a justification, a way that you can understand it. No one deserves the horrible things that happen to them, even though you can totally understand why someone else would do those horrible things to them. Movies are never that morally complicated anymore, and it's exhilarating to be treated as an adult by Rumley. Too many filmmakers think adult content is just sex and gore, but Rumley knows that it's also complicated emotional and moral questions.
Noah Taylor is the star of this film, but Amanda Fuller delivers an incredible performance as well. There's a lot not to like about Erica, and she's not introduced in the most flattering way, but Fuller finds the humanity in this profoundly damaged woman. The tragedy of Erica is that she's not as dead inside as she believes, and she discovers that way too late. Fuller has a role that calls for her to bare herself physically and emotionally, and she rises to the challenge and is as fearless as any actress I've seen lately.
Red White & Blue is a weird title for the film; it makes sense by the end, but it never feels satisfying. My humble suggestion: Duct Tape. I suggest that partially because so much duct tape is used to tie people to chairs or seal them in plastic bags, but also because there's a sticky bond that connects the fucked up, angry and vengeful people in this story. Red White & Blue isn't about the flag, but it's about the terrible ways we bind ourselves together.