Retired Spies Are Far From Retiring
By T.T. Stern-Enzi
Paul Moses, retired covert CIA operative, a man with too much knowledge about what happened to the bodies buried all over the world, sprang from the mind and graphic novel frames of Warren Ellis, as a ruthless killer, efficient and deadly like the ronin, samurai who have lost their masters and roam alone. Rarely do they live long enough to even contemplate retirement, but Paul was different and his former employers at Langley figured that, in order to protect their precious secrets, they had to remove him. “How hard would it be?” they assumed, forgetting exactly what it was that he had done for them for all those years.
Reading Ellis’s graphic novel, I came away with the picture of Paul Moses as Dirty Harry, if Harry Callahan had been a trained government killer, or maybe Moses, in retirement, was supposed to be like William Munny from Unforgiven, a bad man trying to live out the end of his life with his past. You get the sense of where I’m going with this – Moses was a dark comic book interpretation of Clint Eastwood. And it might have been fun to see someone other than Eastwood tackling his iconic persona in a contemporary action piece.
But, Red, the adaptation from Robert Schwentke (The Time Traveler’s Wife), pursues a far more conventional path, transforming the Paul Moses of the page into Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), still a CIA contract killer, but a smirking quipster in retirement seeking any way to enliven his dull days. Lately, he’s been calling on his retirement consultant from Social Security, Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker) and engaging in a harmless phone fling. That is, of course, until a job from his past puts him on a hit list and sends him on a wild and wooly adventure seeking the truth. Everything about the past dirty deeds is a MacGuffin. It is all just an excuse to hook Frank up with his retired team of operatives for one last hurrah and land him a woman to live out these last days with.
The old team includes not so much characters as placeholders to insert Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren and Brian Cox into the mix. And once the old gang gets together, they seem to have all of the camaraderie you would expect from such a cast, although I found myself quibbling a bit about the presence of Willis. For all his charms, he actually seems too young to hang out with this crew, especially when he’s referred to as “grandpa” by the ruthless younger agent on his trail (Karl Urban). Eastwood certainly would have been a more age-appropriate choice.
To be fair, that’s a minor complaint about a movie this breezy and entertaining. It is not a faithful adaptation of the Ellis graphic novel thriller, nor was it pretending to be. It is an old school caper, an action comedy that seems content to enjoy its easy, retiring style.
Red can be seen at Rave The Greene 14, Rave Dayton South and more.