Brian Cox has proven himself to be one of the most underrated actors of all time. While he’s consistently a character actor who works in small often thankless roles, when he’s put on the spot with the right script, he can turn in an amazing performance. “Red” is a bleak and often somber revenge film where Cox is really able to shine on his own. What’s interesting about Jack Ketchum’s stories is that they’re relentless and often unflinching stories about the utter epitomes of human cruelty and the ability of the human to be as utterly amoral as possible, and often times the figures in his stories are either too old or too young to do anything to battle the cruelty.
Whether it’s “The Girl Next Door,” or “The Lost,” we’re often witness to protagonists who simply haven’t the strength to battle the evil before our eyes. Brian Cox is powerful as Avery Ludlow, a small town shopkeeper who loves to fish and has a wonderful relationship with his old dog Red. When we meet the three cohorts who proceed to victimize Avery, Avery is a man wise enough to know what with or without a shotgun at their hands, he’s much too old to fight the trio of youngsters who hurt him by the side of a lake. That, and he’s smart enough to know that his dog Red, who barks at the sight of the teens, is also too frail to fight them if they should attack Avery. Cox plays Avery with a quiet dignity, a man who has seen so much in his life and has experienced a lot of pain, and is ready to age and die.
Avery is a man who knows his limits, and when confronted with the three violent teens during a fishing trip, he is quick to submit to their demands of his possessions, because he values his life and known it’s more precious than any fishing rod or truck he owns. The trio of teenagers just seem to take joy in his fear, and revel in his misery when they mercilessly shoot his loyal dog Red and mock the animal as it dies. Avery has been defeated once the blood from Red’s head spray along his arms, but he’s unwilling to let the issue go. “Red” is assuredly a revenge film about a man looking for justice, but there’s never the transformation from old man to gun toting vigilante at any point. Avery’s progression from a beaten elderly man to someone seeking justice for this crime is compelling, especially since by the end, he’s dropped so deep in his journey of vengeance, that he can do nothing but watch blood eventually shed.
Much of Avery’s quest revolves around his age, and how he, at his old age, is expected by pretty much everyone to lie down and die much like his dog had to do. Eventually it becomes such a dark and vicious journey for Avery and the wealthy sons of town businessman MrCormack, that by the time the film has drawn to a close even the character Avery can’t understand why it couldn’t just be dropped. How could anyone get away with murdering a poor defenseless animal? Why isn’t anyone making more of an uproar about it? Avery simply can’t swallow this crime against his loved one and move on with his business. He has to assure the sons of McCormack that every life is accountable for, and they’re never above the law. Because someday it may not just be a dog. It may be a person.
Noel Fischer gives a great performance as the viciously despicable Danny who does whatever it takes to squirm out of the senseless murder of Red, while Kyle Gallner is memorable as the only really decent son of the McCormack’s who has a chance for redemption but eventually has to split loyalties. Kim Dickens is also especially wonderful as a reporter who takes an interest in Avery’s mission for revenge. “Red” is not your typical gun toting, blood splattering rampage thriller, but a quiet and dignified look at a man who simply couldn’t allow a harmless animal’s life to go unpunished. Brian Cox gives an absolutely incredible performance in what is one of the finer revenge thrillers ever made. “Red” is a vicious and brutal parable on human cruelty in the Jack Ketchum tradition, and in the end it’s a thriller that’s very much worthy of Cox’ repertoire.