Red Right Hand (2024)

Red Right Hand Review

Red Right Hand

“Surviving in these mountains requires a little blood,” growls Big Cat (Andie MacDowell), an Appalachian drug lord before having one of her henchmen feed a Sheriff’s deputy to her guard dogs. That’s the pulp novel vibe of “Red Right Hand,” from first-time screenwriter Jonathan Easley and directors Ian and Eshom Nelms, who explored similar territory with their 2017 film “Small Town Crime”.

The Kentucky-set crime thriller stars Orlando Bloom as Cash, an ex-junkie who burned his hand red to leave Big Cat’s gang. He’s trying to live a quiet life after his sister died of an overdose. He lives in a shack on her property and helps run her farm with his alcoholic brother-in-law Finney (Scott Haze) and bookish niece Savannah (newcomer Chapel Oaks).

But, in stories like this, no one ever gets to leave their past behind. When Big Cat sends her crew to terrorize his family after Finney fails to pay back $100k that he borrowed, Cash gets pulled back in. No amount of money would satisfy Big Cat, who is “into empire building.” So Cash must use his unique set of skills he’s a people person who can also kill indiscriminately to help Big Cat cement her legacy. Various violent drug deals ensue. Knowing the shakey nature of the deal they are making, Cash and Finney also teach Savannah how to shoot.

While Bloom does his best to bring a hard edge to tattooed-up Cash, whose muscles ripple as he does pull-ups on the frame of his porch, there is always an air of pretending about his performance. You see the acting not the being. This wouldn’t be a problem if Bloom weren’t going for realism but played it up as caricature instead. There is time and place for earnest brooding but this type of blood-soaked saga calls for something more.

That’s where Garret Dillahunt, as a fellow ex-junkie and ex-gang member-turned preacher named Wilder, comes in. Dillahunt goes big, with big speeches and even bigger gestures. Only then can a sermon that references John Milton’s Paradise Lost (and gives the film its title) play like Preacher Harry Powell’s deranged biblical rants in “The Night of the Hunter,” the high-water mark of Southern-fried pulp cinema.

MacDowell also hits these rarefied heights, delivering some of her most fun work in years. Ruling over her empire from a big red brick mansion complete with roaring fireplace, oak-paneled built-in bookshelves and leather armchairs Big Cat is the type of villainess who cuts off thumbs with her own shears one minute then uses the hot bodies of her henchmen for sexual gratification the next. And MacDowell savors every line. A Southern broad herself, she knows the power of a whisper and a threat veiled in niceties. Arsenic runs through her veins.

Regrettably, her evil team of criminals resemble a stomp and holler band more than a bunch of bloodthirsty killers. Everybody’s just too clean cut and manicured with their perfectly trimmed beards and tailored clothes. Where are the character actors like Jack Elam or Warren Oates with weathered faces that match the hard-edged life these characters are supposed to live?

At least cinematographer Johnny Derango captures the essential pulp mood with high contrast nocturnal scenes accented with shades of orange and teal. About half the movie takes place at night, but unlike most contemporary noirs where it seems the only light comes from passing cars’ headlights on empty streets (and never once illuminates anyone’s face), here they actually light the sets. This means you can actually see the characters’ faces something that seems to be getting rarer and rarer for any film these days.

Where this is really felt is in what should have been Bloom’s grand finale shootout. For long stretches he remains largely absent while Savannah wields her newfound gun skills and faces off against Big Cat alongside the preacher, clumsily edited in such a way that there doesn’t seem to be any room for Bloom, who spends most of it sneaking into her compound through the surrounding woods.

It’s almost as if at this point the filmmakers realized Dillahunt and MacDowell were their film’s beating heart. Which isn’t all that surprising when you consider that those two characters also happen to perfectly distill its main thesis: that America’s story is one of God, family, guns, drugs, and money.

Watch Red Right Hand For Free On Gomovies.

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