Posted June 13, 2012 by David Watson in Films
 
 

Red Lights


It’s a shame people are already referring to Red

It’s a shame
people are already referring to Red Lights as this year’s The Sixth Sense.
It’s a quietly better film than M. Night Shameless’ over-rated opus but
the comparison may mean you’ll spend much of the movie trying to guess its
twist rather than just sitting back and enjoying the cinematic sleight of
hand. In case you’re wondering,
the twist isn’t that Robert De Niro has remembered how to give a subtle,
nuanced performance.

Veteran paranormal researchers and sceptics Dr Margaret
Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and Dr
Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) spend
their days investigating fraudulent mediums, faith healers and fake
hauntings. Sort of like a less
odious James Randi. Or Derren
Brown without the showmanship. Or
the smugness.

They’re professional ghostbusters, debunking the stage
psychics and charlatans that fleece gullible audiences, preying on the grief of
the bereaved and the vulnerable.
They search for what Matheson dubs ‘red lights,’ exposing the subtle,
tell-tale signs and tricks con-men use to hoodwink their victims. In 30 years she’s never come across a
case she couldn’t explain. Except,
maybe, one.

When the blind and celebrated psychic Simon Silver (Robert De Niro) returns to the stage
after a decades of self-imposed retirement following the mysterious death of
his biggest critic, Buckley ignores his mentor’s warnings that Silver is
dangerous and should be left alone.
With the aid of amorous student Sally (Elizabeth Olsen), Buckley sets out to discover the truth about Silver,
risking his sanity and his life as his investigation slides deeper into
obsession.

Building on the success of his 2010 English-language debut
Buried, Red Lights’ director Rodrigo
Cortés
constructs a film that’s founded on more than just our
desire to see Ryan Reynolds suffer; Red Lights instead indulges our desire
to see Cillian Murphy suffer. Two thirds of a really good film, Red Lights is a classy, fairground
ride,
Cortés
building tension, drip feeding scares as he withholds
information, deploying a Hitchcockian trick box of sudden shocks and creeping
dread. Every door creaks
ominously, every phone call startles the crap out of you. Suicidal sparrows bash their brains out
every time Murphy passes a window, electrical equipment explodes, light bulbs
shatter, masonry crumbles. The
closer Murphy gets to the truth, the deeper the mystery becomes, the less sure
his, and the audience’s, grip on reality.

Cementing his leading man status and carrying the film,
Murphy brings a vulnerable ambiguity to his role that suggests Buckley may just
be losing his mind. A sceptic who
desperately wants to believe, to be proved wrong. Weaver, as ever, is excellent, her easy chemistry with
Murphy electric, their surrogate mother/son relationship lending the film a
warmth and humanity, grounding it in reality. Toby Jones is
good value as Weaver and Murphy’s rival researcher, a puffed up little busybody
who desperately wants to prove Silver’s claims regardless of the evidence, and Joely Richardson plays her customary
icy bitch role (but she’s sooooo good
at it!) while the luminous Olsen is wasted but winning in the superfluous girlfriend
role. Oh and that spooky
1200-year-old manchild Craig Roberts
puts in a welcome appearance as a superfluous geek.

If the film has a bum note though, it’s De Niro. As the years go by and the Fockers
films pile up, eclipsing his more iconic roles, it grows harder to remember De
Niro’s last great performance. Heat? Jackie Brown? With the
possible exception of 2007’s The Good
Shepherd
(which he also directed), De Niro has pretty much sleepwalked his
way through the last 15 or so years, turning in lackluster performances in
mediocre movies like What Just Happened
and The Score or scenery-chewing
turns in crap like The Adventures of
Rocky and Bullwinkle
and the Fockers films. Part Derek Acorah, part Uri Geller, his spoon-bending
mentalist is by turns bland and shouty, displaying none of the charm or
seductiveness the character needs.
He should be a mystery, an enigma, a messianic svengali. It would have been great to see what an
actor like Nicholson, Walken or even Clooney, with his easy charm, could have
done with Silver. In De Niro’s
hands, he’s a thug in sunglasses.
He should’ve been silkily seductive, another Louis Cyphre. Instead, De Niro gives us Jack
Byrnes. Again.

Witty, intelligent and subtle, at least right up until the
last 10 minutes, Red Lights is an
effective, suspenseful thriller, delivering all the right chills and bumps in
the night to keep you on the edge of your seat right up until the well
signposted twist ending, itself one of Matheson’s red lights.


David Watson

 
David Watson is a screenwriter, journalist and 'manny' who, depending on time of day and alcohol intake could be described as a likeable misanthrope or a carnaptious bampot. He loves about 96% of you but there's at least 4% he'd definitely eat in the event of a plane crash. Email: david.watson@filmjuice.com