Plot: Erica (Amanda Fuller) lost her virginity at a young age after being raped by her mother’s boyfriend. Horribly traumatized by the experience, Erica now spends her nights in the bars of Austin Texas, cruising for random, unprotected sex with strangers. Meanwhile, a new tenant at her rooming house, Nate (Noah Taylor)- an eccentric, but highly intelligent ex-soldier, persists in being kind to her- which is something she hasn’t experienced from many men, and eventually she starts to develop feelings for this strange man. At the same time, one of her conquests, a struggling musician named Franki (Marc Senter) discovers that he’s HIV positive, and he begins to suspect she intentionally infected him with the virus. Eventually, he takes drastic action against Erica, which puts him directly in Nate’s crosshairs.
Review: Five minutes into RED, WHITE & BLUE, I knew I was watching something truly special. The film begins by following Erica out for a night of random sex with strangers. The whole, extended sequence is dialogue-free, and scored by simple, somber piano music that perfectly sets the mood of what’s to come. For the next thirty minutes or so, we get a look at Erica’s sad existence, as she immediately beds almost every man she meets, regardless of age, looks, personality, etc., while barely scrapping by working at a local lumber yard and doing chores in her rooming house.
The only man she doesn’t immediately take to bed is Nate- played by Noah Taylor, in the performance of a lifetime. To be sure, Nate doesn’t look like much. He’s middle-aged and scrawny, with him sporting a wispy, trailer-trash beard, and speaking with a thick twang. At first, Erica is repelled by the strange man, who claims to be a war vet, and CIA recruit- but once she gets to know the deceptively intelligent Nate, she beings to have feelings for him.
Lead actress Amanda Fuller gives an especially brave performance as the beyond damaged Erica. Under the harsh lighting, the beautiful Fuller’s deglamorized, with her pockmarked cheeks being emphasized, which makes the character feel real, and is a welcome departure from anything you’re likely to see come out of the mainstream. Despite her tortured past, no effort is made to have us sympathize too much with this woman who knowingly infects hundreds of men with HIV- but at the same time, she’s not portrayed as a monster either. She’s just a person shaped by trauma, and nihilistic to the extreme. Somehow, she and Nate just somehow work as a couple- and if they had been able to stay together, they both MIGHT have had a chance at happiness.
Sadly, her sins come back to haunt her once the tortured Franki is able to track her down. In most movies, Franki would be painted as a villain, while Nate would be our hero, but here- the opposite is almost true. Franki- while impulsive, and capable of cruelty, is not depicted as a monster. He’s shown to be a good friend, a good son, and a good boyfriend. Senter’s performance will probably be overlooked by many, as he can’t help but be dominated by Taylor- but I thought he was extremely effective, and even somewhat likable.
Taylor really only takes center stage during the last half hour or so. Up to this point, I was really enjoying RED, WHITE & BLUE, but I was puzzled at why it was selected for Fantasia, as it seemed to have more in common with a Richard Linklater film, than anything genre. However, the tone of the film shifts during the last half hour, making it a natural fit for Fantasia.
Now, when a tone shift like this happens, usually it doesn’t work. It’s a very fine line shifting a film from drama, to heavy thriller/horror- but I gotta say, director Simon Rumley REALLY pulls it off. The last thirty minutes of this film are incredibly disturbing. Up to this point, we’ve been made to empathize with Nate, but in the last thirty minutes, he does some truly horrifying things, and the shift in his character is traumatic. RED, WHITE & BLUE actually has a lot in common with Park Chan-Wook’s SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE, but here, Nate goes even further than the characters in that film.
I really can’t praise Taylor’s performance enough. It’s incredible how he manages to be both endearing, and utterly terrifying. I really hope more people get the chance to see RED, WHITE & BLUE- as Taylor’s performance is just too damn good to be ignored, and in a perfect world- he would win awards for it. Sadly, RED, WHITE & BLUE’s far too uncompromising a work to pick up the kind of mainstream attention need to make that happen. Taylor’s far from the first guy that would come to mind for a role like this- but the against type casting turned out to be a brilliant move. He’s truly indescribable here- and damn if this isn’t the best performance I’ve seen so far this year.
RED, WHITE & BLUE is a truly shocking film. Now, I know that description gets thrown around a lot these days, but for RED, WHITE & BLUE it really fits. To say this isn’t for everybody would be a massive understatement. Compared to this, THE KILLER INSIDE ME could have been PG-13, and there’s no way they’ll ever be able to get an R-rating for RED, WHITE & BLUE without significant cutting- so a mainstream release probably isn’t in the cards. Hopefully, it’ll go the on-demand route, or get a decent DVD release, as this truly needs to be seen by anyone who wants to see a finely crafted piece of true horror. Think WHITE OF THE EYE, by way of Park-Chan Wook and you’ve got an idea of what to expect.