Hollywood’s latest marketing gimmick would appear to be making movies featuring yesterday’s (or the day before’s) action heroes. The Expendables is clearly an example of one such movie, although I must confess that I believe Jason Statham to be the best-big-thing-who-will-probably-never-be in action movies. Red, which should release in India soon, looks like a movie in the same mould. It has an all-star cast of Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker and Richard Dreyfuss.
Yet, it’s different: Red’s cast features relatively older actors because it is a movie about relatively older people. Willis plays Frank Moses, a CIA black-ops operative who is now retired and leading a fairly ordinary existence till the agency, or at least a group of people within it decide to kill him. So he assembles his old team (Mirren, Malkovich, Freeman) and decides to get to the bottom of it. I am yet to see the movie but I am sure lots of blood and gore are in store.
That isn’t just a hunch. Red is actually based on a mini comic book series authored by Warren Ellis (think Transmetropolitan, featuring that most Gonzo of Gonzo journalists, Spider Jerusalem). It tells the story of Paul Moses, a retired black-ops operative who changes his status to “red” from “green” after the agency orders a hit on him. What follows is an exceptionally fast-paced and bloody comic book featuring some very graphic acts of violence (a doff of the hat to Cully Hamner, the illustrator). I read Red a few years ago and loved it, but I’d decided that it was one of those good comic books that would probably never get its due (like Sleeper or Human Target, although the second did spawn a TV series). That should change now. The movie will probably kindle some interest in the book, although I have no illusions—action movies based on comic books are rarely true to the original and, still worse, invariably have happy endings. Red’s ensemble cast is further proof of that.
The perils of making a shoot ’em up thriller are well known—most notably from the critical as well as box-office performance of a film of the same name (Shoot ’Em Up, starring Clive Owen, another underrated action hero who, like Willis, appears in the Frank Miller/Robert Rodriguez movie Sin City). Still, I do hope Red’s makers took a closer look at the book before deciding to call for reinforcements in terms of characters written into the screenplay. The book features a tight plot, some very stylized violence, and only one of the characters, minor or major, appearing in it (apart from the group of soldiers who presumably kill Moses in the end) survives.
On the trail: Paul Moses, a retired ops operative, is the hero of Red.
I was always a sucker for books with no loose ends.
R. Sukumar is editor, Mint.
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