Friday, November 23, 2012

Red Dawn, a review

What happens when you blend Modern Warfare 2 and remnants of Cold War fear together? Well, you get Black Ops, but that isn't my point. Red Dawn begins with traditional American folklore, taking place at a football game (anyone noticing a pattern here, particularly when America is getting cuffed about by a foreign power? Pearl Harbor, I'm looking at you), resulting in the seemingly fractured family of marine Jed (Chris Hemsworth sans Thor's hammer) and quarterback Matt (Josh Peck) waking up to a really bad morning:

Chinese -- umm -- North Korean planes are invading, dropping paratroopers and causing major havoc. With little to go on, the under 21 demographic (except for Hemsworth) end up in the woods waging a guerrilla war against a seemingly unstoppable force.

TECHNICAL

The film is a perfect product of modern cinematics, keenly influenced by Paul Greengrass and Call of Duty. Everything is intentionally designed to induce the feelings of modern combat, complete with shaky cam and an editing style that feels loaded up with pop rocks and diet coke. The initial invasion is impressively staged, with thousands of paratroopers descending from heaven, planes falling out to the sky and the like. The brief bits of wonder involve a close up on a snow globe being rocked around and a cool instance of a teenager being flung at ramming speed from one car through another.

The special effects and cgi are well-staged and achieve a sort of campy quality that heighten the entertainment value greatly.

All in all, the film is technically what one would expect. Competent if mostly uninteresting.

NARRATIVE

I confess, I did not come into this looking for a decent story. I cannot say I was disappointed. The material is perfect and ripe for some deep thematic involvement, but the laziness of the film drastically undercuts everything.

You have a two minute montage of kids firing guns and suddenly they are blood thirsty warriors. Two minutes later, they are gunning down faceless North Korea soldiers. The pacing is slipshod, with characters being introduced as if we've known them for a few years and being killed off on the basis of them knowing said characters.

The film is indeed dopey fun, but the screenplay shifts in the later section with a jarring tone similar to being slapped in the face with the frying pan while eating an omelet.

*Spoiler*

After escaping with maybe ten minutes left to the movie, the characters discover one of their guys is bugged and leave him there with a gun and some ammo. We never see what happens to him, nor do we get any sense that maybe a brief bit of surgery would help remove the annoying device. It strikes me as an incoherent attempt to amp up the emotional intensity and instead comes across as ham-fisted. A phrase that doesn't make sense but really just makes me hungry.

Finally, a few things I question:

Why would the Chinese North Koreans let ordinary citizens walk around in public? Why not put them all in concentration camps? Why not tag every citizen? Why not stage public executions? Why not level most of the buildings that could be hiding insurgents? Why wouldn't the Wolverines do things to strike fear into the hearts of their enemies, like skinning their enemies or public executions under the guise of quick time events? What about the desensitizing effect violence has upon the youth? Or on us for watching this?

*steps off soapbox*

You get my point. There is much more that the film could've explored.

THEMES

Many reviewers dubbed the film "jingoistic" and I don't quite get that. Cross out the American flag and substitute a Mexican or Japanese flag and the film wouldn't change much. There is nothing really unique about the film that demands a jingoistic description.

The clash of actuality violence and video action is worth noting, in that a kid flat-out cracks a joke about it, but doesn't seem to take it seriously. In fact, we aren't either. Some folks got angry when you had kids killing other kids in Hunger Games but here, as long as kids are killing adults, that's perfectly kosher.

This invites a little more thought because exploring the psychological effects violence has on someone should bring about a more interesting result than "they bad, kill they ass."

For the most part, plenty to work with, shot it's own shin off.

CONCLUSION

Red Dawn is a product of an age where video games are grafted together with real-world headlines and nameless faceless villains are worth their weight in staged movie blood. The concept is genius and I really dug the initial opening invasion.

Hemsworth has enough presence to make him the cool dude we all dig. However, as time progressed and the film worked out it's internal sense of (il)logic, most of the propulsive nature of the first act wilted and all we have left is a shoddily edited and poorly told story of kids fighting pixelated meanies hitting expert head shots with an ak47.

Which is totally worth turning into a drinking game.

2 out of 5.

--Nick

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