Red Lights * * *

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Director: Rodrigo Cortes.
Screenplay: Rodrigo Cortes.
Starring: Cillian Murphy, Robert DeNiro, Sigourney Weaver, Elizabeth Olsen, Toby Jones, Joely Richardson, Craig Roberts, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Burn Gorman, Jeany Spark, Karen David.

With his English language debut “Buried” in 2010, Spanish director Rodrigo Cortes proved that he could handle tension with limited resources. This follow up has him with a slightly bigger budget and some hefty weight behind him in the acting stakes. Again he proves more than capable in his abilities to build suspense and intrigue but fails miserably in bringing his story to a satisfactory conclusion.

Doctor’s Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) work in a scientific field where they investigate paranormal activities and expose the charlatans who are out to make a quick buck. So far so good, until Simon Silver (Robert DeNiro), a renowned psychic, who disappeared 30 years ago, comes out of retirement to make another public appearance. His abilities are said to be very powerful and the doctor’s decide to take him on and expose him but the last critic who tackled him, died under mysterious circumstances.

With a confident hand Cortes sets his stall up well and builds the tension slowly and assuredly. In the beginning he focuses solely on his two solid leads in Murphy and Weaver before teasingly introducing an enigmatic DeNiro as they all scramble around a script that comes off as an episode of the “The X-Files“. The trouble is, the material has about the same staying power as a 50min episode of that series and doesn’t nearly deliver as much satisfaction as the investigations of Mulder and Scully. It’s in the final third that the film starts to crack under it’s own weight and expectations and it becomes apparent that Cortes never really knew how to tie this story together in the first place. This is the most frustrating thing about this film as it certainly has a grip on you and keeps you at just the right length to maintain your interest. Realistically, it could only end two ways; either it’s a hoax or… erm… it isn’t. Once you realise this, it dawns on you that you might not be satisfied with either. But Cortes is also aware of this and as a result tries to pull the rug from under your feet. As it is, it’s one sleight-of-hand too many as he introduces a twist that goes against everything you’ve seen before. All the events are tenuously linked together in an unravelling that is, quite frankly, preposterous and fails to convince. The three leads in Murphy, Weaver and DeNiro do what they can with the material but ultimately their talents are wasted. As are the talented likes of Joely Richardson and Toby Jones in thankless roles. It’s not a complete right-off as, for the most part, the material is there and the premise very intriguing but it falls shamefully short and instead of being poor it’s, simply just frustrating.

At one point in the film, Murphy’s character says “The only way to pull a rabbit out a hat is to put it there first“. Well, the same applies to Cortes; he certainly isn’t as clever as he thinks he is and if he wants to pull off a good twist, he has to put a decent script there first.

Mark Walker

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31 Responses to “Red Lights * * *”

  1. I heard about this. With this cast, I’m still a little curious. Thanks for the review, Mark.

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    • It was a great film to begin with Michael but it seriously loses it’s way. I had been wanting to see it for a while and have to say I ended up a little disappointed. If it had concluded more solidly, I would have been praising this a lot. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. Thanks my friend.

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  2. Hmmm… never even heard of this one… or if I did I forgot…. sounds like I need to give it a shot to see for myself – excellent work as always! Wait – you tagged 2012 – is this one of those things that came out where you live but hasn’t made it to the states yet? Is that why I haven’t heard of it?

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    • As far as I’m aware it’s already been out in the states. Has been for a while. It’s a decent film but I’d have been rating it a lot higher had the ending delivered as it should have. Great performances as well and this is the type of film that’s right up my street. Sadly, it ended really poorly. Thanks as as always man.

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      • Red Lights has just been added to my NF DVD queue! As has suggested Run, Lola, Run and something I am going to email you about…

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      • Run Lola Run is a fantastic film. You could do a lot worse than that. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for your take on Red Lights, I’d be interested to hear what you think.

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  3. It’s disappointing that this film couldn’t be better because I think Cortes definitely has the ability.

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    • I agree Ryan. I think for the most part Cortes does a fine job. I can’t fault his directorial talents but his script falls to pieces. Buried was also an admirable movie and one that I must revisit.

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  4. I toyed with the idea of seeing this when it came out but decided against it. Sounds like a rental film if ever there was one. Great review Mark and, in particular, great closing paragraph!

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  5. filmfellahenry Says:

    Nice review man, it’s made up my mind to give it a miss (thus saving me 2 valuable hours). I guess going from a relatively cheap flick like Buried to a film with around 5 times the budget must be a daunting challenge with obvious baggage; understandable then that Cortes seems to have fallen short in key areas (or perhaps that’s just me being overly forgiving). Though it does seem to be a trend for talented directors to neglect the quality of the script: for me, Nicholas Refn is a good example of this, where his narratives are always somewhat lacking, despite a clear directorial skill. If only they drafted in better writers (or script editors when it comes to their own work) then their potential could be properly realised.

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    • This, on the whole, was a decent film Henry but Cortes should really have brought in some help to proof read the ending. It undone the whole film for me but up until that point I was really enjoying it. I think Cortes is a man to watch though. Hopefully he learns from this.

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  6. I heard some good things about this one. Not seen it yet but will do eventually. Great write up as always Mark!

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  7. Just saw it this weekend. Liked it more than you, Mark. SPOILER ALERT. The beginning did a good job explaining paranormal hoaxes and that Drs. Tom and Margaret were serious scientists. I had no idea what was coming. When Simon Silver(DeNiro) appears the tension and suspense is immediate and compelling. Right up to the final scene I was on the edge of my seat. The ending was a complete turn around that I did not see coming. But it made sense and answered big questions. “How did you do that”, it wasn’t Simon it was Tom! Wow! I bought it, it made the film.
    I agree that several actors were wasted parts. But it did showcase Elizabeth Olsen, the hottest new actress going. Somethings bugged me. Like the big beat-down Tom receives at the end. Totally unnecessary. And Dr. Margaret’s death was too early and too unexplained. But for me, this was a hit! Best thing from DeNiro in a while. I guess most people agreed with you Mark, it went almost straight to DVD.

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    • For me the twist just didn’t work Ray. I admire the attempt but I found it completely implausible. There were references at the beginning of the film but I found them very weak. SPOILER ALERT. I’m with you on the beating that Tom takes though. What was the point of all that? And the death of Margaret? I have no idea how she actually died. Any reference to her I’ll health was very fleeting and to say it was unexplained is an understatement. However, I was also on the edge of my seat for most of the film and for that, I can’t be too critical. I certainly wouldn’t say it’s a bad film but it left me feeling conned like the charlatans in the film itself.

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  8. Hoping to give this one a watch. Very nice write-up. DeNiro has been hit or miss these days. Ready for one more mind-blowing performance from him.

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  9. I think your review is completely spot-on: I especially like you saying that Cortes isn’t as clever as he thinks he is – and I think the film itself isn’t as clever as it ‘thinks’ it is – it enjoyed ‘showing off’. It is an entertaining film with lots of potential, but in the end proves to be very dissatisfying. Actually it reminded me of another film ‘Red Eye’ (2005) also starring Cillian Murphy, not in terms of the plot – it’s completely different, but in terms of it being also a psychological thriller which has a nice premise, but does not live up to expectations. I am also now reviewing ‘Frailty’ (2001), and am just appalled at its ending, which actually ruined this potentially-great psychological thriller completely – in my opinion.

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    • Thanks a lot. I’m glad to hear we’re in agreement. Such a shame though as I was really enjoying the film up until the end.

      I’ve not seen Red Eye yet but I have seen Frailty. It’s been a while but I also remember really liking Frailty until the denouement also. What is it with films that can’t quite end properly? If anything they suffer from having such a strong premise and delivery that the expectations are raised so high, only to fall flat. It’s very frustrating.

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  10. The story doesn’t immediately grab me but I like Cillian and Sigourney so I’ll rent this for them. Too bad Toby Jones is wasted here though, he’s such a great character actor.

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    • Murphy and Weaver are good here Ruth but yeah, Toby Jones is wasted. I don’t hear you mention anything about the great and powerful DeNiro? 😉 He’s the main reason I went into this but despite being good as well, he’s underused.

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      • Oh I’m sure he was great, but sorry Mark, De Niro is usually not the main draw for me, not sure why 🙂

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      • What?! Please don’t say such things. 😉 How can DeNiro not be the main draw? The man’s a living legend. He’s been my favourite actor since I was a youngster and I’ll tend to watch films I know I’ll probably hate just because he’s in it. Can’t beat a bit of Bobby DeNiro.

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  11. Nice review. This has been in theaters for a couple of weeks now but I haven’t gotten the chance to go check it out. Hopefully I will be able to do so soon and form my own opinion.

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  12. Giving this a watch today…

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