British Director Simon Rumley’s last feature The Living and the Dead crafted a maddeningly bleak look at the disintegration of a family unit. Full of static atmosphere that film’s tension ratcheting ever tighter like a noose closing around the characters, threatening to choke the life out them at every second. In the same manner, Red, White & Blue is a slow-burn thriller that uses every available frame of film to further the filmmakers distinct vision and melancholy scripting.
Erica (Amanda Fuller) is a disaffected twenty-something woman living in Austin, Texas. She spends her days cleaning the boarding house where she lives rent-free and her nights in a skirt-hiked-up-to-there prowling the town bedding every man she meets. Always every night, always a different man, or men. She never spends the night and she never goes back for seconds. In truth, Erica never feels. Like alcohol or drugs, each new nighttime lover is just another substance she sticks in to the void that is in her soul. And each new morning, she scrubs off the sweat and cigarette smoke in the shower and starts it all over again. Until she meets Nate (Noah Taylor, Shine), an Iraqi War veteran with a ponytail and a Charlie Manson beard, gangly and captivating with an equally damaged conscience, Erica brushes him off with an “I don’t want friends and I ain’t gonna fuck you” attitude. But when Erica loses her job sweeping floors, Nate sets her up with a new one and slowly these two lost souls connect. But, Erica’s past is set to catch up to her as a local musician, Franki (Marc Senter, Cabin Fever 2) is hunting Erica down to exact some revenge.
For some audiences, Red, White & Blue will present two distinct hurdles to overcome. The film is three-quarters set up and although that set up is intriguing and absolutely necessary to establish the complex world of these characters, it is liable to leave genre fans looking for guts and gore, scratching their heads and wondering what’s up with the film. I’ll admit that even though I was enthralled with trying to determine what caused Erica to cut off the world and what Nate’s true motivations were in the film, I was equally concerned that the film might not be leading anywhere monumental at all. At times, the movie reminded me of another Austin-based film–Love and a .45— however, that film is anarchic in its schizophrenic love story. Rumley’s picture is more in the vein of David Cronenberg in that the set up is long and deep, but they cuts that come in the finale run ever deeper. Which brings us to the second hurdle.
Non-gene fans who get sucked in by the nuanced storytelling, and wrapped up in the emotional journey and strange connection between Erica and Nate are apt to loose their cookies at the brutality that is unleashed in the final quarter of the film. The film’s violent undertones are present early on though and nervous viewers can feel the brutality in the characters past lives putting a flame to the fuse of power keg of emotions. When an explosion rocks Nate’s world, Red, White & Blue without reservation turns into a devastating motion picture and the collateral damage is absolute.
Only a precious few films have drained me more physically than watching Red, White and Blue. The mounting tension, especially in the films final build up, had me pressing my fingers into my palms so fiercely that I’m shocked that I never drew blood. But on screen blood was drawn, and the characters lives were decimated.
I started to think back and it occurred to me that Simon Rumley’s last film was dark and desolate. But, set inside a decrepit mansion, covered in dust, shrouded a blue haze, that the film was much more clear in its intentions. Red, White & Blue is duplicitous in its design. By placing its horrors against a wide blue yonder of the infinite Texas sky Rumley purposed the bright sun shiny day as the ultimate juxtaposition to the grim realities of his characters fate. It’s a masterful piece of storytelling from a filmmaker on the rise.