The condemned: Red Wing (2013)
The plot: An Americanized, modern-cowboy-dress adaptation of George Sand’s 1847 novella The Country Waif (also know by its French title, François Le Champi), in which an orphan develops pseudo-incestuous feelings for the woman who raised him.
Over-the-top box copy: “Red Wing is a socially thought-provoking and stirring love story based on the French novella, François le Champi by George Sand” may not be over-the-top, but it suggests that whoever wrote Red Wing’s box copy is unfamiliar with both the meaning of the word “socially” and proper comma usage.
The descent: Despite its A-list connections (more on that below), Red Wing seems, by all accounts, to have been a modest, churchy local production of the sort that pop up in regional film festivals before being four-walled into a handful of suburban multiplexes. Filming took place in Whitewright, Texas (population: 1,604), where the local paper ran lists of items that the crew were looking for—a “trailer for hauling hay,” “coffee pots,” “sheets, pillows, and pillow cases,” and so on and so forth. A year after production wrapped, Red Wing had a run in a handful of Texas theaters. The few reviews that the movie did get (it apparently wasn’t screened for critics) were exclusively negative. After a few screenings at small festivals, it disappeared, resurfacing on DVD and streaming this summer.
The theoretically heavenly talent: For starters, there’s the fact that Red Wing was executive produced by Terrence Malick, the most notoriously reclusive figure in American cinema, and Edward R. Pressman, whose resume is packed with stylized projects like Phantom Of The Paradise, Bad Lieutenant, The Crow, and American Psycho. That Pressman and Malick would work together is unsurprising; the two have a relationship that goes back to Malick’s debut, Badlands, and have jointly overseen a handful of projects, including David Gordon Green’s Undertow and Michael Apted’s Amazing Grace. But how did they end up getting attached to a pokey little low-budget drama?
There’s a simple answer: Red Wing’s director, Will Wallace, happens to be Malick’s stepson. Malick and Pressman’s involvement got the movie some coverage in the industry trades early on, and undoubtedly helped the production sign a few big names for small roles, including Bill Paxton and Frances Fisher.
The execution: Wallace shares his stepfather’s passion for Steadicam; almost all of Red Wing appears to be have been shot with the camera on a gimbal. However, whereas Malick’s use of the Steadicam is part of an overall improvisational strategy—a way to give sweeping movement to the most off-the-cuff moments—Wallace’s is almost comically impractical. Even simple dialogue reverse shots are marked by the slow, listing bob of an improperly balanced Steadicam.
For the film-tech literate, Red Wing will be like nails on a chalkboard: Severely blown-out highlights and exteriors, fuzzy focus, and camera movements that veer to one side because the rig hasn’t been stabilized. For everyone else, it’ll be merely pokey and cloying. The movie seems to be sleepwalking through its own plot, waking up every now and then for a bit of overwrought emoting or a heavy-handed music montage. It’s a melodrama, but one that never finds a way to convey its characters’ emotions; instead, it’s just a slow, opaque collection of small-town archetypes, with the occasional swirling camera movement thrown in for flavor.
Likelihood it will rise from obscurity: None. There’s not much of interest even to the most hardcore of Malick fans, and Wallace’s amateurish direction—marked by snoozy performances and awkward transitions—is more irritating than inept.
Damnable commentary track or special features? A few interviews with cast and crew. Hardly damnable.