If you’re going to make a movie about a man and his dog and kill off the dog a few minutes in, you’d better hope the other half of the equation can carry the remainder of the narrative. Luckily for Red, Emmy award-winning actor Brian Cox – whose nuanced take on that darling cannibal Hannibal in 1986’s Manhunter remains unsung – is up to the task.
One of the few remaining British thespians unsullied by the gaudy promises of Hollywood, Cox is well equipped as Avery Ludlow, the half-demented driving force of this troubled production, and although the behind-the-scenes difficulties sully some of the film’s most potent moments, Red, in the end, is a quiet triumph that speaks to the talents of all involved.
Avery is a decorated veteran of the Korean war whiling away a quiet life in rural America with that most constant of companions: his dog, the eponymous Red. One morning, the old friends drive down to an idyllic spot where the woods meet a beautiful lake for a little fishing. Avery sets his rig down and casts his bait into the calm waters; Red settles in contentedly beside him. It’s just another easygoing day for the pair until three teenagers looking for trouble happen upon them. With the cold barrel of a hunting rifle to his temple, Avery bites his tongue, acquiesces with their demands; he offers up his beat-up old truck and hands over what little money he has, but it’s not enough to satisfy their sneering arrogance. Danny McCormack, leader of the pack and elder brother to the hesitant Harold, turns the gun on Red and gut-shots the poor dog before stalking off to spend his hard day’s earnings on a sit-down dinner, leaving a stricken Avery to pick up the bloody pieces.
What begins as a contemplative countryside portrait becomes a more pointedly emotional character study of an apparently powerless old man trying to cope with the callous barbarities of contemporary society, but it’s not long before co-directors Lucky McKee and Trygve Diesen demonstrate their preparedness to undermine the audience’s expectations a second time. Avery, you see, buries his dog with a grunt and a frown, putting his grief aside to deal more directly with the murderous youths. Red becomes something akin to a revenge thriller; one old man with a heartfelt vendetta versus three little pigs and the institutions that shelter them.