Red White & Blue. 2010. Directed & Written by Simon Rumley.
Starring Amanda Fuller, Marc Senter, Jon Michael Davis, Nick Holden, Patrick Crovo, Mary Matthews, and Noah Taylor. Fidelity Films.
Unrated. 104 minutes.
There’s an endlessness to the disturbing qualities of Simon Rumley’s indie shocker Red White & Blue. I find myself thinking about the film over and over until it hurts my head, for days after viewing it. Sometimes even a week or more. I’m still, to this day, not positive if I know why that is exactly. However, since this came out in 2010 I find myself watching it at least a couple times a year.
I’ve not seen much of Rumley other than this film, his horrifying psychological horror picture The Living and the Dead, and the segment “P is for Pressure” from horror anthology The ABCs of Death. I have to say, based on the little I have seen – he has a bunch of other work on his filmography – I do think Rumley has a knack for the gritty realism and the horror in life. He takes that and works it into his movies.
Such is the case here in Red White & Blue. The story’s filled with real life – from the situations and the dialogue right on down to character. What comes out of that is a cyclical nature of hideousness and violence, a perpetual motion that continues on in the lower class of America. I’m not sure if that’s exactly where Rumley was headed overall with this movie, but that’s what I’ve taken out of it. This doesn’t represent everyone, it’s merely a microcosm of the viciousness certain people face on a day to day basis. Red White & Blue represents that, it also comes to represent how people can often wage the wrong wars, fight the wrong battles, while others similarly choose to resolve a situation otherwise handled by law enforcement by their own hand. As I said, that cycle of violence is what drives this film and it’s the cause of all the actions of these characters, as well as the events which shape their stories.Red White & Blue follows the difficult life of Erica (Amanda Fuller). She wanders around looking for a job, finally finding one at a hardware store. Mostly, she spends her nights out sleeping with men; some times it’s one, some times three at a time, other nights it’s several but over a few hours.
At the boarding house where she rents a room, Nate (Noah Taylor) shows up. a veteran of the Iraq War, an interrogator, he seems to want to just lead a low-key lifestyle. He helps Erica get the job at the hardware store, but she doesn’t seem to care much for him at first. Slowly as she warms to him – discovering he’s not like all the other men who have sex with her on her break at work in the employee washroom – however, Erica is not merely a regular girl who likes to have a lot of sex. There’s nothing wrong with that, at all.
In her case, the story is a little different. Once one of the men who had sex with her, Franki (Marc Senter), tests positive for HIV, things worsen for Erica. When Franki and his friends confront her, this is only the beginning. They have no idea what they’re doing as it is, it only gets more intense once Nate figures out Erica is missing.
Then, all bets are off.
I’ve only seen Amanda Fuller a couple of times. I thought she did a nice small supporting role in the recent, and fantastic, Starry Eyes, and she also played a good guest role in an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit titled “Wet”; her extremely brief appearance in Cheap Thrills wasn’t really long enough to be impressive, just enough to say she was in it.
Regardless of wherever else she turns up, I think Amanda’s performance in this film is a great one. The character of Erica is very dismal. While I don’t hate her, I also can’t feel bad for her. She’s obviously been terrorized in her lifetime, not only in more present times but even she talks explicitly about the fact something happened to her when she was young. But that does not excuse the fact she was sleeping around and giving people HIV – for characters a part of the lower class type setting in which Red White & Blue exists, this is most certainly a death warrant, these people don’t have Magic Johnson health insurance. It’s by the grace of Amanda Fuller that Erica becomes a sympathetic character.
Because no matter the fact Erica spread a terrible virus to others, she didn’t deserve what Franki (Marc Senter) and the other men were inflicting on her. I felt bad because Fuller brought out the girl inside Erica – the part of her that died and stopped caring about herself, about anyone else, the part someone close to her, maybe someone she loved closely and dearly, crushed. It’s a sad quality, at the same time it makes you care about her despite the faults.
The most telling scene is when she asks to sleep next to Nate (Noah Taylor). It’s obvious she cares about him, as she doesn’t want to have sex; clearly not wanting to infect him. At least that’s how I took it. You can tell she wants to be loved, she wants him to love her in fact, yet there’s that inability to give in and let anything happen because that part which wants to fall heels over head in love won’t allow him to be sentenced to the same fate as her, and those other men. Highly tragic character and story between these two.Cannot forget Noah Taylor either. There are plenty of portrayals of Iraq War veterans in film, as well as veterans in general. I love stories which examine the effects of war. Mostly here what we’re getting is a bit of an inside view into the social life of a veteran after coming home. There’s a broken aspect to his character, Nate, and at the same time a strength. Simultaneously, Nate is a bit of a psychotic. It’s not definitively stated if that comes from before or after the war; from what Nate tells the young men once confronting them, I gather he was probably a fan of torture long before ever serving in the army as an interrogator. Yet while he’s a vicious brute in that regard, he’s defending the woman he came to love.
But this is also where I feel part of the thematic element in Red White & Blue becomes about that cyclical violence, as I discussed earlier. On one hand, Erica does not at all deserve what those men did to her. While on the other hand, she did a terrible thing by knowingly spreading disease to men by having protected sex, over and over, almost every night possible. So with Nate going out and violently avenging Erica, there’s only a perpetual cycle of bloodletting happening. It’s like a machine constantly churning.
As I said, it isn’t a comment on the lower class as whole, but what I think Red White & Blue examines is how that cycle often works its way through the most vulnerable: in today’s society, as it has always been, those who are middle-lower class to lower class are certainly most vulnerable. Nate is heroic, however, an aspect of his character is also playing into the never ending violence which continues to plague pockets of American society.Furthermore, Marc Senter’s character Franki is a part of that cycle in which Nate finds himself caught. Franki – while innocent in the sense he shouldn’t have been given HIV knowingly – is giving his mother blood, he has a steady girlfriend who wants a full-on life with him, and yet he goes out at night with his friends and the three of them have sex with Erica. How can we say he doesn’t play a part in the violent cycle? He most certainly does. By not literally protecting himself – wearing a condom – he dooms himself and his mother. Yet instead of owning up to his decision, regardless of the fact Erica knowingly passed on HIV, Franki chooses to take the horrific path he ends up on in the end. Anyone would be mad to be given HIV, but SO MANY MEN could be out there who were given the virus by Erica and now none of them will know. It’s a terribly irresponsible for Franki and his friends to kidnap Erica and not bring her up on criminal charges. So many others could be out there infecting countless others, exponential amounts putting more disease out into the world.
And so he’s no better than anyone else, at all.
The strength of this film lies in its performances. Although, there is a wonderful slow burn which works itself up to a roar once the few horror aspects of this dramatic thriller kick into gear. I think these are the reasons why I love Red White & Blue so much. It is a nasty bit of cinema, no doubt about it. What I find is that there’s a genuine air of tension holding from beginning to end. Not once do you feel any real hope, except for slightly glimmers; this is a grim picture. But it’s a necessary one, a raw, real vision of things that are happening in the world.
When the horror comes, it arrives in full force. There are a few downright disturbing scenes where I felt my jaw drop. Nothing in that sense that was explicit so much as a lot was implied or done off-screen. Very effective.
On top of everything, what I think Red White & Blue examines is revenge. In this film, we come to understand revenge is never cut and dry. No one here is a perfect character, by any means. There is no ultimate hero, there is no full-on victim. The title, I believe, refers to the fact there are no black and white situations in real life – instead there are situations coloured in all shades, particularly here Red White & Blue, as the story is one out of the lower class of America. Certainly when it comes to revenge, nothing is black and white. There are too many shades of truth and morality amongst revenge for anything to be simple.
The movie is great, though not perfect, so it’s definitely a 4 out of 5 star dramatic thriller. With several very horror-ish elements, Red White & Blue unsettles me at its core and rocks me each time I see it. Plus there’s a good atmosphere and tone, helped by a fine score from Richard Chester.
I don’t watch this too much. Though, I can’t stay away from it either because there’s some lure about it for me; something from which I can’t escape. Perhaps it’s the mix of morals amongst the three characters on which the film is focused, I don’t know. No matter what it is drawing me back to this film time and time again, I think Simon Rumley did an excellent job at creating a fresh new thriller, infused with a dose of horror, and it’s one of the best films of its kind in the last five years.
See this little gem if you haven’t yet. I know lots who have, but it still seems to be either under seen or under appreciated. I think it’s definitely worth anyone’s time if they’re looking for a thriller that has balls and isn’t afraid to shy away from society’s dirty realities.