The introductory scene in this film undoes the rest of the work in the film in less than a minute, which is quite a feat. It all starts in a Navy building in 1935, in which four men sitting in silence around a table are scribbling notes down and looking at Japanese symbols. They are code breakers, and they all seem to know their stuff pretty well, so when one of them gets a new code to break and doesn’t understand it, the whole place comes alive with panic.
The red machine in question is a new coding machine built by the Japanese to send messages home from the States, and Lt F Ellis Colburn has been tasked to find it. Naval intelligence has given him a partner to work with too but, as it turns out, it’s a safe-cracking thief who has just been caught by the law.
Usually, Eddie Doyle doesn’t get caught, as he can buy the cops off with bribes and presents, but this time it won’t cut it. At first presentation of these two characters being together, it’s almost like a buddy movie, but it doesn’t exactly continue in that way, although maybe that would have helped. (Any filmmakers out there that want to make a 1935 buddy movie, do it. It would be brilliant. This film convinced me.)
Colburn and his senior officer Aggie Driscoll explain to him that getting the code is very important, and that if he does it, he can earn his freedom from being convicted of jewel thievery. He reluctantly agrees, with the latter being the main reason for doing so, of course. They then visit someone that Colburn thinks may be involved in the communications, who just may have a dark connection to his own past.
From here the story goes from a buddy movie-lite to being a drama, oddly enough an almost uninteresting one. It progress from here into being somewhere between these two, and while the buddy movie angle works for them, the dramatic storyline does not. In fact, it starts to undo the good work of the other. While there are some bright sparks and some intrigue throughout, this is still a flawed film, which is a darn shame, as the first half hour sparked my interest.
There are a few great scenes, however, and it’s not all bad as the acting is pretty good here. Lee Perkins as Lt F Ellis Colburn gives as good a performance as he is able to within the confines of his very tight character, who keeps himself to himself for the most part. Donal Thoms-Cappello as Eddie Doyle is an utter gem, though, and I can see him going on to great things from this performance. He is cheeky and fun, but not without being overbearing or silly, and he also brings depth to a character that many may have played with idiocy. The only other actor I particularly got to enjoy here was Madoka Kasahara in the role of Naomi Shimada, who had an interesting and developed character that lent itself well to the script, and played well off of Lee Perkins’ F Ellis Colburn.
However, the true relationship here that worked wonders for the film was that of Colburn and Doyle. Colburn was the chalk and Doyle was the cheese, but the banter they gave back and forth never failed to impress, and it’s just a shame that the film spent so long on other plotlines that there wasn’t enough of this to satisfy.
All in all, The Red Machine is an interesting low budget project that impresses enough for what it is, but could have been so much more. It’s unfortunate that the better elements of the film weren’t expanded upon, but as it is it’s a good glimpse of what the filmmakers Stephanie Argy and Alec Boehm are capable of, and I welcome their return to EIFF in the future.