The first was that Stephen Susco wrote and produced the film, and for me that was a great plus. The other was just how powerful the film was.
Avery Ludlow, played by Brian Cox, is a well known and well liked guy in the local community and owns the local store, just getting by and living out his remaining years just him and his faithful old dog.
One day, while he's out fishing at a remote spot, when some kids arrive and begin chatting to him. From the beginning it's obvious that one is the leader and that he's been out bragging with his mates about his new gun he's carrying. When the old man sets him right about his hunting problems he's put out and his darker side appears and he commits a terrible act without remorse.
Ludlow is a true and honest man who believes in retribution and sets out to receive an apology from the boys and to see that they truly feel sorry for what they did, but when they don't and their fathers side with them, his character and his past push him onwards for that retribution.
Brian Cox deserves a big mention here because he is just utterly superb in the role of Avery Ludlow. Mind you he's excellent in everything he does, but here he commands the film and gives such a natural and subtle performance it is deserving of recognition.
He's one of the actors, in my eyes anyway, that makes acting seem so easy and delivers great role upon great role, just like another of my great favourites, Gene Hackman.
At one point he has a heartfelt monologue to give to the camera, a rather long speech that demands the display of deeply held and checked emotions, and he carries it off wonderfully, really appealing to the audience and capturing their emotions.
Other actors worth mentioning was a short appearance from Robert Englund, who really proved that he's more than a horror actor for me, the first real non-horror role I've seen him in. Although his appearance is short he does play the role well and really does pull back on the performance and deliver something pretty real.
Tom Sizemore is the biggest surprise to see here. Usually his personality and name swamp a film, but he too manages to keep it in check and pull in a really restrained performance. There's some of that arrogance and arm waving performance still there, but it's a good one and he matches the character of the father really well.
The boys are strong as well, with the leader Noel Fisher providing something a little stronger. He does mirror Sizemore well and pulls out a mean and bravado filled performance that represents the over arrogant, self assured, and aggressive youth of today.
The story is really strong and the pace is set very slowly, taking time to build the characters and the situation, without racing through it and heading into all out action, and the writer and director should be given great credit for that.
It doesn't go down the Hollywood route intentionally, now if you've seen the film I know you're probably arguing with me and that's what I thought until I heard the Q&A. The contentious issue might be the ending, and I have to say although it seems slightly Hollywood, it's the best way for the story to play out, and that's probably what would happen in real life too.
The best part of this story is that it doesn't race off down the vengeance route, something which I thought might just happen. From the beginning of the film I hoped that they were going to keep this slower pace up, and they did, much to the benefit of the film. Instead we saw Cox's character holding back and pushing just enough to get the reactions that he needed from the kids who had wronged him.
This was perfectly paced, wonderfully written by Stephen Susco and very well directed by both Trygve Allister Diesen and Lucky McKee. As you can tell I was really taken with the film and the performance of Cox.
I really enjoyed the subtlety in the story, highlighted best in two ways for me. The first was watching the anger appear and take over Ludlow in his own way. It never makes him fly into a rage, or commit rash actions, in fact he becomes stronger and more bloody minded.
The second subtlety that I really enjoyed came in a single shot. Early on we see a shot of the bedroom door of his house and the mad deep gouging and scratches that appear around the door handle, and nothing is said. It clearly marks it in the audience's head and so when Ludlow delivers his monologue the relevance comes flooding back and the director feels no need to throw the camera back again.
This kind of subtle craftsmanship is throughout the film and the story, and there needs to be a lot of credit given to writer and directors. However there is a little stain on the film, well actually two. One is one that shouldn't really concern most of the audience, and that's the replacement of the director.
At some point McKee was replaced by Diesen, and no one is really talking about that. Now that's fine, I'm not so concerned about the reasons, but with the dual credits I would love to know who is responsible for what in the film.
The other mark is perhaps something that will wash off easily with audiences, and that's the ending. I'm still not sure about it and whether it was the right ending for the film. The scenes in the darkened woods are perhaps a bit too convenient, although it does serve well to highlight Ludlow's words afterwards, it does feel a little much for how the film had been playing out.
Then there's the closing scene which I felt an issue with before I came to the Q&A at the Edinburgh International Film Festival with Susco and Diesen, and Susco won me back with his comments on how they decided to play it out.
It may be sentimental and playing to some of the audience's emotional strings, but not only is it pretty real, but it also completes the story and the character's story arc very nicely. Read the Q&A for more on that, but after I heard it I totally agreed with him.
I loved this film, this is what cinema should be. Forgetting the current terrible conventions of ramming things in the audience's face for reinforcement, the film retains all the subtlety of a great script taken to the big screen with fantastic pacing.
Then there's the great direction and a wonderful performance from Brian Cox with plenty of strong supporting actors performances.
Red really does show that Hollywood hasn't destroyed great storytelling and directors who can compliment great scripts by not overpowering them with their own visions and ideals.
Q&A with Stephen Susco and Trygve Allister Diesen:
Stephen Susco was taking some photos during the Q&A session, so we might see them appear on his blog - I hope so because one shot was right towards me!
Susco said that he had read the novel and loved the cover, it looked like some revenge novel with a darkened figure holding an axe. He expected a horror payback novel but it turned out to be a strong drama.
Diesen said that the story showed how far someone would go for the things he loves.
It was more about saving the dog than about getting revenge for the dog.
One of the audience members asked about how it was to work with Tom Sizemore considering his reputation, Diesen was rather complimentary and said that he was very professional and really nailed the performance. They did reveal that the father character had a lot more screen time but that they did have to edit the role down just because there wasn't enough time in the film, and that they realised that the character didn't need all the backstory that they gave him.
On the subject of Lucky McKees, which one of the audience was really keen to hear about, neither would be drawn. He did some of the film and left the production where Diesen picked up. Some of his work is in there so his name was kept on the billing. Diesen shut down the line of questioning instantly though saying that they would not talk about why.
Now, about that ending, beware as you may think that a few of these might be very minor spoilers. Apparently the original script did not have the character of Ludlow showing the regret of his actions and being humbled at the very end. In fact in the book it suggests that everything he had done was totally justified.
They discussed both versions of it prior to filming and Susco agreed with the director that he should show this regret.
The replacement puppy was actually in the book and it was a concern from both director and writer that this would be seen as far too much of a sweet ending but this is the final moment where Ludlow let's go of his memories of Red. They did add the character's anger and resistance at the leaving of the puppy, something which fits well with the character and doesn't make it so sickly sweet.
One insightful member of the audience pointed out that in the film "all the wrong people got it", something that Susco agreed with and stated that he liked the fact that the innocents died and that this is honest storytelling.