Dog Day Afternoon

RUNNING TIME 98 minutes
WRITTEN BY Stephen Susco
DIRECTED BY Trygve Allister Diesen and Lucky McKee
STARRING Brian Cox, Tom Sizemore, Amanda Plummer, Noel Fisher, Kyle Gallner, Shiloh Fernandaz, Robert Englund

Dog lovers will adopt Red, but although the title belongs to a beloved Irish setter (or is it a rusty-colored Airedale?), the movie should appeal to people who like people, too. It is not about a dog. It’s about the dying values of truth, honesty and justice when bad things happen to good people and their pets. The brilliant actor Brian Cox—versatile, accomplished and always full of surprises—stars as Avery Ludlow, a quiet, reclusive old man in rural Oregon who owns a small general store and minds his own business. One tragedy has already robbed him of two sons and a beloved wife. All he’s got left is Red, an aging dog with such sensitive instincts he seems practically human. One day on his favorite river bank, as he fishes peacefully with Red dozing at his side, a trio of teenage hoodlums with a Browning Auto 5 shotgun who claim to be deer hunters try to rob him, then kill his dog for the cruel sport of it. The death of his best friend and lifelong companion triggers a personality change in the old man that drives him to seek closure. He traces the gun and the bullet shells, and finds the killers, to little avail. Two of the boys are sons of a rich, vicious trucking company owner (Tom Sizemore) who wields a lot of political power in the town. The third boy’s parents (Amanda Plummer and Robert Englund, from the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise) are rednecks who are paid to keep their mouths shut. The boys deny the crime, the law refuses to help, the D. A. does nothing. Filing a complaint for cruelty to animals is about the best Avery’s attorney can promise, but persistence pays off. When all else fails, he goes to the press. He can’t even watch the breaking news because he doesn’t own a TV set, but he does get everyone’s attention. It’s one senior citizen against all odds whose faith, perseverance, and love for Red keeps him from giving up. No spoilers, but things take some tragic left turn and two lives are needlessly lost before people finally discover this is a story that can no longer be ignored.

There’s no way anyone can ignore the galvanizing performance by Brian Cox. A consummate artist with a wide range, he can play everything from Shakespeare to a creepy pedophile (I’m still haunted by his work in the shocking L. I. E.) with searing conviction. In Red, he works toward the emotional center of his character, not the margins. Assured writing and restrained direction are strong elements here, but it’s Brian Cox’s powerful but low-key performance and an abiding respect for animals that can’t defend themselves that invest this simple, straightforward narrative with an understated passion that is unforgettable.