For an older person, there is something satisfying about watching an aging secret agent school a younger one. Created in part for the aging Baby Boomer generation that grew up with the stars of Dean Parisont’s Red 2, the basic premise works on several levels. Not only does it reveal the superior skill of an older professional but it also weaves a wisdom into their actions that recognizes the necessity of working across national borders and finding a place for love in their espionage activities. Thus the Russian, British and American agents work together to save millions of lives while rekindling forbidden love among them.
The first and second of what will hopefully be many more “Retired, Extremely Dangerous” films are based on a graphic novel by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner with the screenplay written by Jon and Erich Hoeber. The characters are engaging and the cast is perfect.
The ensemble cast of the first Red film is reassembled in a way that is even more engaging and less quirky than the first film. In comic book style, the names of the agents define their roles. The two American agents are Frank (Bruce Willis) and Marvin (John Malkovich), who have brought into the action Frank’s girlfriend and wanna-be agent Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker). The chemistry of these three could have carried the film, but when the sharp-shooting British agent Victoria (Helen Mirren) and her Russian counter-agent and lover Ivan (Brian Cox), along with the Russian beauty Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and the Korean assassin Han Cho Bai (Byung-hun Lee) join them, the complexity and humor of the story multiplies.
These agents have equally formidable though far less lovable foes. The mad scientist is Dr. Bailey (Anthony Hopkins), played with a rather Hannibal-like sinister intelligence. The hatchet-man for the nefarious military and government officials is steely-eyed Jack Horton (Neal McDonough) and the poisonous purveyor of secret information is The Frog (David Thewlis).
Since this is a mystery/suspense film, we won’t expose any of the plot except to say that it is vintage comic. Doing what is right is primary, while at the same time, the agents have little regard for human life. This moral inconsistency is part of the offbeat humor but it is the reason that this film does not deserve a higher rating for moral and spiritual values. The desire to save millions while dispassionately killing individuals is presented as laughable were it not a common practice in much of the world today. Perhaps in this way our art reflects our culture.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. When Marvin gives Frank counsel on his relationship with Sarah, the juxtaposition is humorous. Yet we often get counsel from people who are not living what they teach. Where do you seek counsel in your life and does that person’s life and actions match their words?
2. The ability to create a weapon that is undetectable to sensors would create a world that is even more vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Do you believe that you and your family are safe now? Why do you answer as you do?
3. It is difficult to imagine a British agent and a Russian agent falling in love and having a life-long longing for one another. Yet love may be able to lead us into a peaceful future. What do you think will bring peace in this world if not love?
Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of the Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara. For more reviews: www.cinemainfocus.com.