Dir: Roy Battersby. UK.2005. 110mins.
Completed before the July bombings in London,
Commercially it stands some chanceof traction at the box office, given its suspenseful nature, although it mayprove too topical for many in the UK after recent events. The DVD market probablyranks as its best chance of success, where its set-up and concept will doubtlessdraw solid rentals.
Set in the UK, screenwriter Farrukh Dhondy's plot adopts achilling scenario, as a group of disaffected Muslim youths develop the means tobuild a dirty nuke. As the police close in on them so they escape, ducking intoa London restaurant and taking its owner, staff and customers hostage.
The terrorists have the bombingredients with them; the police must figure out just how capable the radicalsare of using it, effectively supplying much of the film's race against time.
Red Mercuryis successful in how it presents its protagonists as British-born, university-educatedsecond generation Muslims who are fascinated with western culture, beforeexpanding on why they have succumbed to radical Islamic terror. The script isalso leavened with unexpected moments of humour that break up the tension whilekeeping the action moving.
Performances all round aregenerally good, in particular Juliet Stevenson and Pete Postlethwaiteas the cops assigned to crack the case. But Stockard Channing is severely miscast as a Greek restaurantproprietor, and her bad Americana accent consistently distracts.
Red Mercuryreally falls short however when it comes to tone. At certain moments theterrorists and their captives begin discuss politics, the meaning of freedomand dignity and East versus West. Only some of these scenes feel trulybelievable and it stretches our plausibility that some of these terrorists toopen up to quite such a degree.
At other times thecharacters open up emotionally towards each other in sequences that veertowards the maudlin: one in which a terrorist talks about his dead mother andlost father edges towards On Golden Pondterritory. A subplot involving Stevenson's junkie daughter also proves an extraneousdiversion that has no real place amid proceedings.
Technical credits are wellexecuted, with a solid score.