Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Brian Cox: When he's good, he's really good

Yesterday, watching Lucky McKee and Trygve Allister Diesen's compelling adaptation of Jack Ketchum's novel Red, I was reminded of just how fantastic an actor Brian Cox can be.

For me, Cox will always be the best Hannibal Lecter. I prefer his precise, chilling performance in Michael Mann's Manhunter to Anthony Hopkins' more mannered, more obvious portrayal. Since then, he's rarely been off our screens, and, without wishing to be uncharitable, can chew the scenery with the best of them. However, given the right material and the right role, Cox truly, truly shines, be it in L.I.E, Rushmore, The Escapist and a fair few others. Not that he's ever bad. He's too good an actor for that.

In Red, which premiered at Sundance 2008 but which went straight to DVD in the UK, Cox plays Avery Dudlow, a small town general store owner whose dog, the eponymous Red, is killed by a trio of teens for no other reason than they're bored and pissed off. The benign, elderly Dudlow wants retribution for the senseless slaughter of the mutt that had been a 50th birthday present from his now dead wife, but, initially, is prepared to settle for an apology. After tracking down the teen who pulled the trigger, Dudlow, a former soldier with a tragic past, confronts his father (Tom Sizemore), a redneck trucker made good, who choses to believe his no good son, thereby setting in motion a chain of events that escalate out of control, until even more blood is shed.

A simple story effectively told, Red offers a masterclass in Cox's talents, around which the film is constructed. The gentle, contemplative Dudlow tries first to do the right thing, but when the law fails him, and even the intervention of a sympathetic TV reporter leads nowhere, years of pent up anger and pain burst forth. But Dudlow is no mere vigilante. Cox, who's rarely offscreen for the entire movie, brings dignity, introspection and real emotion to his character. What's even more remarkable about Cox's performance is that the shared directing credit hints at behind-the-scenes trouble, with Diesen having apparently picked up six months after McKee left off.

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