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REVIEW

In 'Red,' ripple effects of evil

August 29, 2008|Mark Olsen | Special to The Times

In "Red," an elegant and deceptively straightforward dramatic thriller, Av Ludlow (Brian Cox) is out fishing one day with his old dog when a trio of teenagers comes along and shoots the pooch dead for no reason. That act of violence sets in motion a chain of events that profoundly changes the characters, with effects more far-ranging than any can imagine.

Adapted by Stephen Susco from a novel by Jack Ketchum, "Red" is credited to directors Trygve Allister Diesen and Lucky McKee. (Apparently Diesen stepped in after McKee, best known for the cult comedy-horror gem "May," left the production.) It seems the work of one sensibility, however, and there isn't any visible changeover between the two directors.

The film's bucolic, small-town imagery and gentle strumming soundtrack -- the stuff of Hallmark cards and movies of the week -- are at odds with the intensity of Av's desire for some kind of justice and the relentlessness with which he pursues it. As the story unfolds, it becomes apparent that Av wants to avenge more than the loss of his dog.

Veteran actor Cox delivers a performance of real depth, pulling nuance from a story that always verges on "Death Wish" pastiche.

Much of what makes "Red" rise above is its attention to telling details. When Av calls his local gun shop to find out if the model the boys carried has been sold recently, it's a funky old place in town with lots of natural character. The store that actually sold the weapon is a far more generic and soulless place out by the highway.

Av's house is nice but plain, a veritable temple of Americana, while two of the boys live in a garish, tacky McMansion. The underlying conflict between old ways and new times, how things were and what they are becoming, gives the film an unexpected tension.

It is easy to overstate the case for "Red," a simple story well told, but to come across a film that has such an easygoing, sure-footed confidence about it -- particularly one with a potentially troubled back story and two credited directors -- is always a pleasure.

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"Red." MPAA rating: R for violence and language. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes. Exclusively at Laemmle's Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869.

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