Brandishing depressingly modern ideas about "disturbing content" and an overbearing air of self-satisfaction, Red, White & Blue is the most frustrating kind of filmgoing experience: one that throws away its best idea in service of unoriginal ones. Based on the title of the film and various elements lurking within, writer/director Simon Rumley appears to think he's tearing down some curtain covering the dark side of American culture, but he's only be fooling himself to think the things he puts on display in the movie's last 30 or so minutes are shocking, groundbreaking, ballsy, or interesting with any sort of subtlety or depth.
Rumley fashions a narrative around three characters. The first is Erica (Amanda Fuller), an abused and emotionally distant girl who falls into bed with a different stranger (or strangers) every night, trying to block out her painful memories with the white noise of meaningless sex. The second is Nate (Noah Taylor), a quiet, unassuming man who works at a local hardware store and keeps mostly to himself. Lastly, there is Franki (Marc Senter), a moody, angry garage rocker who fights with authority but keeps careful watch over his mother (Sally Jackson), who is in the process of undergoing cancer treatment.
The driving connection during the first half of the film is between Erica and Nate. Nate, in keeping with Rumley's "broken in the USA" motif, is a discharged Iraq war vet still recovering from his tour of duty. As a fellow drifter bearing emotional scars, he seeks out Erica and slowly coaxes her into allowing him to get closer to her. With the benefit of a supportive, non-sexual relationship, Erica finds some of her painful memories fading into the background. At least, that's how it is in Rumley's script; sadly, Taylor and Fuller lack the chemistry to make their relationship particularly compelling.
A third of the way in, Rumley awkwardly shifts gears to Franki, shoving his first story aside to give his third character the spotlight. The primary focus is on Franki's close relationship with his mother and distant relationship with the rest of his family, his boss, and his girlfriend. Early on in the movie, we actually first see Franki (with the rest of his band) as one of Erica's various conquests, and although the film takes its sweet time getting there, preferring to immerse the audience in Franki's wholly unlikable personality, eventually his story turns out to be the domino that knocks the rest over.
The connection between these characters, which I won't reveal, is enough to link Nate all the way through to Franki's mom, and for one brief period, the film finds itself navigating a wealth of exciting possible threads concerning the way the actions of one can affect another. And yet, just when Rumley has the audience's full attention, he carelessly tosses the entire heap of potential aside, turning the wheel away from any sort of emotional or dramatic truths and off towards "extreme" horror, staging scene after scene for the rest of the film that exist solely to browbeat the movie's malicious, hateful message of suburban unease into the viewer's head. These sequences are also plagued with Rumley and editor Rob Hall's overactive editing, which uses fragmented cuts of a man screaming in sorrow to indicate either the fractured nature of the character's psyche, or perhaps just Avid boredom, and composer Richard Chester's shrill, irritating score, which sounds like a young child banging away on a piano with no rhyme or reason.
Beyond its failure to capitalize on its few good ideas, Red, White & Blue has absolutely nothing beneath the surface. In a world with school shooters and terrorism and sex scandals and hate crimes, it's baffling that Rumley seems to think the "regular family/white picket fence" facade of "normal" Americans is still intact; technology in particular has shined a light on the darkened corners of the world, and if people would no longer be deeply shocked to learn something disturbing was happening within a ten-mile radius from their homes, Rumley's script is just a grim excercise in torture. The result is a complete creative failure: not exactly an amateurish or poorly-made film, but one that takes its sole good idea and squanders it, sandwiching the remains between a snail-paced beginning and a grating, thankless ending.
IFC whips up some fairly stylish if slightly overcrowded cover art that uses the title as a color motif and goes heavy on critical praise. As with all of their films, the DVD comes in a transparent plastic case with no insert and nothing printed on the reverse side of the cover artwork.
The Video and Audio
In a word, the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation offered on this disc looks...murky. The film appears to have been shot on consumer grade digital video cameras, meaning the image is interlaced, revealing motion blur/ghosting whenever there is rapid movement. The transfer also works very, very hard to keep the artifacts and noise to a minimum, but it's a mighty struggle during frequent scenes shot in low light or at nighttime, dipping everything in gloppy blacks and shadows. It's a strong effort, but occasionally, I spotted a few serious blocks in the sickly gray-yellow tint of underlit white walls and the blotchy red of skin in the neon lights of dingy bars. Posterization is also infrequent but visible, I spotted at least one unsightly moire pattern on a window shutter, and even some of the brightly lit, vividly colorful daytime scene looks excessively fuzzy. That said, there are a handful of well-lit close-ups that look excellent, and a glance at the HD stream of the film on Instant Netflix is the opposite of an improvement, with the added clarity and definition primarily serving to define the ugly noise lurking in the shadows. Given the source material, Red, White & Blue doesn't look good, but, in a backwards way, looking better would only make it look worse, landing this transfer squarely in the middle of the road.
The terrible chords of Richard Chester's piano score are cleanly rendered in Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, and...well, the rest of the audio sounds about as good as it can, given it all seems to be source audio. Not too much pickup of the environment here, but there's also not much to say about a track that's basically all dialogue and one clinky piano theme. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and Spanish subtitles are also included.
A Making Of featurette (16:36) is summed up 2 minutes in, when Senter, with a pensive, authoritative look on his face, proclaims about his character, "Probably the most important thing to him is his mom...that's the one thing I picked up on right away." Insightful! That Senter doesn't explain when he intuited his character was also a musician is a disappointment. A subdued, dull reel of bloopers (2:55) is also included, and 2 essentially useless deleted scenes (3:48) round out the video extras. Underneath the setup menu, one can also locate an audio commentary with Simon Rumley and producer Bob Portal that is entirely less egocentric than I expected, but pretty low-key and dry at the same time. The one aspect I appreciated the most is that the commentary was recorded well after the film's release, which is a rare thing these days, offering the participants a little helpful distance from which to reflect on the making of the movie.
Trailers for Kaboom, Prey, White Lightnin' and In Her Skin play before the main menu. The original theatrical trailer for Red, White, and Blue is not included.
Red, White & Blue is a miserable movie with a miserable agenda, abandoning a story thread that might've resonated with real people for one that offers nothing but empty, supposed shock value, and not even innovative or interesting shock value at that. Skip it.
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