Avery Ludlow (Brian Cox) is a widower, owner of a small-town grocery store who likes to go fishing with his dog Red. One day while engaged in his favorite pastime, he’s confronted by three teenagers who attempt to rob him. Not satisfied with their haul, one of them kills Red with a shotgun blast. Determined to get justice, Ludlow does some detective work and finds that the killer is Danny McCormack (Noel Fisher), feral child of a local rich guy (Tom Sizemore) with a “don’t give a damn” attitude and major political connections.
Ludlow, who just wants Danny to confess to what he did, soon realizes not only that the teen denies everything, but that the father will do everything in his power to cover up the incident. So when Ludlow is befriended by a local TV reporter (Kim Dickens) who puts his story on the air, Papa McCormack pressures the local D.A. to ensure that no charges will be filed. And when Ludlow decides to sue McCormack, the latter basically tells him, “Do what you want, you can’t touch me.”
From this point on, Red moves inexorably towards the kind of shattering resolution all too familiar in tales of this type. Ludlow can’t give up on his quest for justice, gnawing away at it like a dog does a bone, and the McCormack family, convinced of their entitlements, just sneer at the widower’s pain. So when the inevitable bloodletting occurs, it comes as no surprise—and yet seems a bit false.
The problem here is twofold. First is that the violence seems so off-putting, it undercuts what has come before it, which is a rather subtle, and extremely absorbing, portrait of a lonely man fighting the powers-that-be for a little taste of fairness. The other is that it detracts from what is a terrific, Oscar-worthy performance from the always reliable Cox. The actor’s portrait of a quiet man forced to extremes is low-key and completely believable. And it includes a lengthy monologue describing a terrible tragedy in his life that is, all by itself, worth the price of admission.
Red is, for the most part, a well-thought-out and eminently watchable film. It is distinguished by Cox’s truly awesome performance, but somewhere along the line someone should have taken a long, hard look at the excesses of the ending and changed course. Because no one did, the last third feels like an artsy version of a slasher film.