Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Robert Schwentke
Stars: Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Mary Louise Parker, Brian Cox, Richard Dreyfuss, Ernest Borgnine.
This enjoyable comedy/action/spy thriller brings together a bunch of old timers and sets them loose in a film that plays with the formula, with great results.
Retired and extremely dangerous is the tag given by the CIA to former agents who may still pose a risk. One such retired agent is Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), one of the best “black ops” agents, who is now living a quiet life in suburban Cleveland. But Frank discovers that some powerful person has placed him on a “hit list” because he knows too many secrets.
Frank enlists the help of some former friends and superannuated ex-agents to help him fight back, and find out why he has been targeted with extreme prejudice. The delightfully unhinged and paranoid Marvin (John Malkovich) still seems deeply affected by all those illegal LSD experiments conducted by the CIA two decades earlier. Ivan (Brian Cox) is a still active Russian agent who bemoans the fact that he hasn’t killed anyone in years. Joe (Morgan Freeman) is comfortably ensconced in a retirement home in Florida. He’s 84 and dying of liver cancer and is reluctant to get involved until an assassin comes knocking. And Victoria (Helen Mirren) is a former MI6 agent who occasionally takes on the odd contract to stave off the boredom of gardening.
Based on the three part graphic novel from DC Comics, written by Warren Ellis, Red has been fleshed out by the Hoeber brothers, Jon and Erich, who previously wrote the disappointing thriller Whiteout. It marks a change of pace for German-born director Robert Schwentke, whose previous films have included the improbable suspense thriller Flightplan and the overly sentimental romantic drama The Time Traveller’s Wife. He handles the over the top action sequences well, and proves to be a dab hand with the many fights, shoot-outs and pyrotechnics that dominate the film.
What gives this one a bit more gravitas and audience appeal is the fantastic cast, who all seem to throw themselves into the spirit of it with enthusiasm. The cast share a wonderful rapport, and there is plenty of wry banter between the stars that adds to the jokey flavour of the enterprise.
Complete with his trademark smirk and attitude to match, Willis is back to doing what he does best, and this is easily his best film for quite some time. Mary-Louise Parker brings a nice touch of humour to her role as the bored clerk who is dragged along by Frank, and she plays the comic sidekick with assurance. Freeman brings his usual dignity and style to a role that doesn’t offer him all that much to do. Richard Dreyfuss seems to be channelling former VP Dick Cheney in his two scenes as a corrupt munitions manufacturer. And it’s nice to see Ernest Borgnine, who is still active at 93, in a small role as the keeper of the CIA’s records and deepest secrets.
But by far the standout of the film is the sight of Dame Helen Mirren wearing a long white ball gown and combat boots firing a heavy machine gun in a parking garage. It’s easily one of the strangest yet appealing sights you’ll see in a movie this year!