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Red Right Hand

"If you're gonna survive in these hills, you'll have to get used to a little blood," purrs Big Cat (Andie MacDowell), an Appalachian drug kingpin just before she has her goons feed a Sheriff's deputy to her guard dogs. That’s the dime store pulp novel vibe of “Red Right Hand,” from first-time screenwriter Jonathan Easley and directors Ian and Eshom Nelms, exploring similar themes as their 2017 film “Small Town Crime”.

The Kentucky-set crime thriller stars Orlando Bloom as Cash, an ex-junkie whose burned red hand was the price he paid to leave Big Cat’s gang. He’s trying to lead a quiet life after the drug-induced death of his sister. He lives in a shack on her land and helps run her farm with his alcoholic brother-in-law Finney (Scott Haze) and his bookish niece Savannah (newcomer Chapel Oaks). 

But, of course, in these kinds of stories no one ever gets to leave their past behind. When Big Cat sets her gang to terrorize his family after Finney fails to pay back $100k that he borrowed, Cash finds himself pulled back in. No amount of money can satisfy Big Cat, who is “into empire building.” Thus, Cash must use his unique skills — he’s a people person who can also kill indiscriminately — to help Big Cat secure her legacy. Various violent drug deals ensue. Knowing the precariousness of the deal, Cash and Finney also make sure Savannah knows how to use a gun. 

While Bloom does his best to bring a hard edge to the tattoo-clad Cash, whose muscles bulge as he does pull-ups on the frame of his porch, there is always an air of make believe about his performance. You can see the acting, not the being. This wouldn’t necessarily be an issue if Bloom wasn’t aiming for realism, but rather leaned into the caricature of it all. There is a time and place for sincere brooding, but this kind of blood-soaked saga calls for something grander.

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

MacDowell also reaches these rarified heights, giving her best performances in years. Reigning over her kingdom from a large red brick mansion, complete with a roaring fireplace, oak-paneled built-in bookcases, and leather armchairs, Big Cat is the kind of baddie who cuts the thumbs off of men who cross her with her own shears in one scene, then uses the hot bodies of her underlings for sexual pleasure in 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 in her veins.

It’s too bad, then, that her malicious gang members look more like a stomp and holler band than a group of blood-thirsty killers. Everyone is too clean cut and manicured, with perfectly trimmed beards and tailored clothing. Where are the character actors like Jack Elam or Warren Oates, with rugged faces that matched the hard-edged life these characters supposedly live?

At least cinematographer Johnny Derango captures the quintessential pulpy mood, with high contrast nocturnal scenes accented with shades of orange and teal. About half of the film takes place at night, and thankfully in order to achieve these noir aesthetics, the scenes are actually well lit. This means you actually see the faces of the characters, something that seems to be rarer and rarer for any film these days.

Unfortunately, where the final climatic shootout should be a showcase for Bloom, he remains largely missing for long stretches. While Savannah uses her newfound gun skills and the preacher faces off with Big Cat, the clunky editing cannot figure out how to include Bloom, who mostly spends the sequence sneaking into her complex through the surrounding woods. 

It’s almost as if by this point the filmmakers had realized that Dillahunt and MacDowell were the film’s beating heart. It’s not that surprising though, considering these two characters also perfectly synthesize the film’s main assertion: that the story of America is one of God, family, guns, drugs, and money. Amen.

Marya E. Gates

Marya E. Gates is a freelance film and culture writer based in Los Angeles and Chicago. She studied Comparative Literature at U.C. Berkeley, and also has an overpriced and underused MFA in Film Production. Other bylines include Moviefone, The Playlist, Crooked Marquee, Nerdist, and Vulture. 

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Film Credits

Red Right Hand movie poster

Red Right Hand (2024)

111 minutes

Cast

Orlando Bloom as Cash

Andie MacDowell as Big Cat

Scott Haze as Finney

Chapel Oaks as Savannah

Garret Dillahunt as Wilder

Mo McRae as Duke Parks

Brian Geraghty as Sheriff Hollister

Kenneth Miller as The Buck

Nicholas Logan as The Doe

Director

Writer

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