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Overlooked & Underrated Docs & Features (click on broll or dschwartz for all his posts)
The Red Machine: A Taut Spy Thriller
How to steal something without taking it?
Breakfast in hand, I sat down at a round table full of strangers on the fourth day of last October’s Mill Valley Film Festival. I was excited to meet San Francisco’s legendary publicist Karen Larsen who, coincidentally, is single-handedly responsible for feeding my film review habit by providing DVD screeners of new films and invitations to screenings in the City. And I was delighted to meet Stephanie Argy and Alec Boehm who had just co-written, co-produced, and co-directed their first feature, “The Red Machine”. (Stephanie, under a pseudonym, also edited the film, and provided visual effects. Alec, a seasoned cinematographer, was the DP, and also composed the music and provided sound design under his pseudonym.) As I consumed my lox, cream cheese, and bagel sandwich – with large amounts of onions and capers – I frustratingly discovered my schedule did not allow me to attend the two screenings of their film. However, Steph and Alec have kindly sent me a screener, so here goes.
It’s 1935 America. F. Ellis Coburn (Elly), played by Lee Perkins, makes Clint Eastood’s character, Joe, from “A Fistful of Dollars” seem annoyingly verbose. Elly’s a Navy officer on a spy mission. He needs to ‘steal’ a Japanese coding device without taking it. He just needs pictures and information, and those would not be valuable if the Japanese knew the device was observed or stolen. Eddie Doyle, played by Donal Thoms-Cappello, is a handsome, fast-talking, talented small-time thief who has no lack of ability or self-confidence. But he’s finally gotten busted and imprisoned. Elly gets Doyle out of prison and offers him a deal he can’t refuse. The two form a mutually unwanted partnership – with Doyle holding most of the cards with respect to actually accomplishing the mission.
Why is Elly so quiet? Why does everyone he meets hate him? There’s a secondary narrative told through flashbacks to 1928, and the two stories – ’35 and ’28 – converge at the film’s conclusion.
“The Red Machine” is a taut spy/heist/thriller/mystery with a gratifying story that leaves the viewer with both answers and questions. The craft in front of and behind the camera is excellent. I was particularly struck by the classic character contrast between Coburn’s and Doyle’s characters. This movie, keeping those two together, could have kept on going as far as I was concerned. Or you could place the two characters/actors in a contemporary hour-long television drama and you’d have a hit. In any case, “
The Red Machine
” is a great movie, and an impressive first feature.
D. Schwartz Dec 12, 2009