Iris Out

Micah Paisner

For the past 22 years, Bruce Willis has been a staple of Hollywood action films. Unlike many other such stars, he has maintained his success. Now 55 years old, Willis is as big as ever. In 2007, director Len Wiseman and Willis revived the “Die Hard” series with its first new film in 12 years, and unlike many sequels it stood in the same class as the original trilogy. In those 12 years, Willis starred in such noteworthy films as “Twelve Monkeys,” “The Fifth Element” and “The Sixth Sense.”
Willis’ new film “Red,” directed by Robert Schwentke, is another hit. While many may write off the film as a generic action film, I’m here to tell you that they could not be more incorrect. “Red” maintains the perfect balance of action and comedy, which is never an easy feat for a director and screenwriter to accomplish. Part of the reason this blending of genres works so well is the star-studded cast.
In analyzing the protagonists, I’m going to use the paradigm used on one of my favorite television shows, “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.” On the show, one of the characters, Mac, devises a plan and tells the others their group roles. The roles, he says, are based on past groups, such as the Ghostbusters, The A-Team and Scooby Doo.
As the character with the love interest, Willis’ character Frank Moses is “the looks.” He gets what he wants because of his looks. In the film, he is romantically connected with Sarah – Mary-Louise Parker of “Weeds” – a customer service agent who he meets over the phone.
Joe, played by Morgan Freeman, is “the brains.” Generally, the brains role is the smartest in the group and devises the plans.
Marvin, played by a scene-stealing John Malkovich, is “the wild card.” The wild card is always the character that provides humor. The character is usually crazy in some way, and it’s never easy to tell what they are capable of.
Finally, Victoria – Helen Mirren – functions as the muscle. The muscle is the character that helps the members of the group get what they want through strength, or in the case of “Red,” weapons.
The opening sequences of “Red” work quite well. In these scenes, Moses sits alone in his house making phone calls to Sarah. The two chat about romance novels and avocados. The scenes are so successful because they set up the film as a romantic comedy, only to have that notion shattered when Moses is attacked by armed men – whom he easily kills.
The plot of “Red” is generic, but it works. Moses, a retired CIA agent who is deemed “Red,” or “retired, extremely dangerous,” is targeted, so he gathers his old team to help him figure out why. As Joe says of this move, “We’re getting the band back together.” The other members of the team are also retired and over 60.
The resulting film is a more self-reflexive version of Sylvester Stallone’s recent “The Expendables.” Unlike Stallone’s film, “Red” draws attention to the fact that the protagonists are old and past their peak instead of completely ignoring this potentially comedic aspect.
The film is quite a departure from the graphic novel created by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner. While the novel has a serious tone, the film remains comic throughout, mostly because of Marvin, who keeps the laughs coming every scene he is in.
“Red” ranks high among Willis’ best films. It is easily his strongest performance since 2004’s “Sin City.” Without giving away the ending, I’ll just say that a sequel is a possibility. As long as Willis and Malkovich return, it could work. And we already know Willis can make good sequels.