Cast: Simon Rex, Bree Elrod, Suzanna Son and Brenda Deiss,
Directed by Sean Baker
Written by Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch
Rising from the indie filmmaking scene in recent years, and becoming known as the director who innovated the low budget, iPhone-utilising style of storytelling, Sean Baker is progressively growing from one strength to the next. Perhaps best known for his previous two films, ‘Tangerine’ and ‘The Florida Project’ – the first of which made heavy use of non-professional performers, as well as being completely shot across three iPhone 5S’s, and the latter containing many similar traits, Baker is clearly a director who’s unafraid to try new ideas.
‘Red Rocket’ tells the story of an ex-porn star named MIkey Saber, who has to return to not only his small-town name of Mikey Davies, but the town itself, residing deep enough into Texas for the film to be engrossed in the strong drawl of the deep South. As previously mentioned, Baker clearly has a love for working with unconventional actors, a technique which brilliantly builds the world of ‘Red Rocket’. Led by a former MTV performer in Simon Rex, as well as other cast members being scouted whilst waiting tables or walking their dog, there’s a clear authenticity in the way they bring their characters to life, which merges perfectly with the impulsive camera movements and narrative points of the film. Simon Rex in particular stands out, delivering what could be argued as one of the greatest performances so far this year. Throughout the film, you’re unsure as to whether you love him or loathe him, and yet if you read about the actions of Mikey Saber in some newspaper article, you’d never have any doubt than to pin him as a villain. To play with the audience’s emotions in such a way takes true talent, and considering that Rex only had a three-day trans-American drive to prepare for the role, as well as filming the entire movie without the knowledge of his agent, it all seems to have turned out fairly well.
Texas has a habit in films of being portrayed as a low-poverty area that appears unwelcoming to newcomers, but is home to some of the most beautiful landscapes in the entirety of the US. ‘Red Rocket’ never claims anything on the contrary, but is undeniably infatuated with the skylines that plague this strange and chaotic land. Cinematographer Drew Daniels’ lens captures the South in its most tender moments, with the pinks and oranges of the lit-up sky providing a perfect backdrop to the donut shop or rundown houses which comprise the majority of the film’s locations. Once again seeming to paint our ill-intentioned protagonist as a hero, the way in which the landscapes are shown throughout ‘Red Rocket’ merge deeper into the uncertainty over what the audience feels towards Mikey, as he eagerly bikes through town towards whichever poor soul is next to cross his path.
Although on the surface ‘Red Rocket’ may appear to be a deeply sad film about broken homes and corrupt relationships, there are some excellent moments of comedy littered throughout. Bakers’ talents when working with larger-than-life characters and exaggerated dialogue was one of ‘Tangerine’s’ greatest strengths, and is something that shines through in many scenes throughout ‘Red Rocket’. Moments of sincerity are interrupted by complete stupidity or foolishness in a way that never feels unjustified. The natural performances and style of Baker’s work remains consistently great throughout, making it hard for any cinema-goer to look away, even if they may want to.
‘Red Rocket’ might not break the box office or ever receive the recognition it deserves at mainstream awards shows, but it would be a shame to let the film slide away uncelebrated. Sean Baker has once again shown himself to be one of the most creative indie filmmakers today, with each new release bringing another delight to the table.