You are going to die. I’m sorry. But, if it’s any consolation you’ll get to live for a while, go to school, meet a special someone, and work a career or two. Inevitably, as you walk toward your final sunset, your annual reviews will grow harsher. The culture you serve will value untested talent over your wisdom and intangibles. This will happen whether your name is Derek Jeter, Don Kelly, or Frank Moses.
Who? As played by Bruce Willis, Frank Moses is the center of RED, a film about former CIA spooks and baddies forced into retirement until the foot soldiers of a shadowy conspiracy creep into Frank’s suburban home to off the old man in the dark. Unfortunately, Frank is the titular RED, Retired and Extremely Dangerous, so the ensuing firefight destroys his home, his enemies, leaving him with questions and an axe to grind into someone’s skull. He sets forth to save his unrequited paramour and unravel the conspiracy with the aid of an ensemble of former friends and competitors that the damn thing means to destroy.
As Joe Matheson, one of Frank’s friends played by Morgan Freeman, puts it, “We’re putting the band back together.” If so, call them The Archetypes, and let bullets and bombs be their instruments. RED doesn’t really offer characters, but a whimsical take on screen personas employed by action films during and after the Cold War. These men and women toppled governments, shaped the world, and wrote the rule book that the agency now uses to stop them. As the audience, we understand the construct of the band. We expect a stoic leader, his love interest, the stoic leader’s faithful friend, another lunatic paisan, and, perhaps, a charming Brit from MI-6, and an old Russian. It’s up to the players to hold our interest, and Willis, Mary Louise-Parker, Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, and Brian Cox play their roles with a wink and a smile.
From the film’s brisk pace to the requisite digital tracking shots along gun barrels and flying munitions, director Robert Schwentke hits all the proper notes of the genre. Screenwriters Jon and Erich Hoeber employ deconstructionist whimsy, juxtaposing banter about love and old age while hits are being designed, executed, or while characters are on the run. The cast makes more of it than can be expected. The old canard, “If you break Frank’s heart, I’ll kill you,” is a lot funnier delivered by Helen Mirren than it would be coming from anyone else.
So, yes, you will die, but along the way you will age along with your action heroes and the empowerment fantasies they supply. You’ll yearn for summer days of Raiders of the Lost Ark, but know in your heart that they’re gone. You’ll see by the writing on the marquee that you are no longer the youth market. It is a world of Twilight and remakes of mediocrities from your childhood. You find yourself bored with these offerings. You find yourself Red.