It may be tough to summon up enthusiasm for a movie about an everyman who ends up having a rocky, scammy relationship with social media that leads him to rob banks, but that’s exactly what we get in Red Rocket (Nordisk Fipresci), Swedish director Tobias Lindholm’s careful and spot-on film about Richard Rautenholtz, a savvy fraudster in an age when the proverbial good guy with a white hat and the bad guy with a black hat are a thing of the past.
Red Rocket (Mattias C. Nybo) goes through quite a few trials during the movie, but a main one is that he never does any kind of activity on social media. There’s a dulling of our curiosity about what kinds of online conversations we could have, in addition to what kinds of chats we’d otherwise miss. Perhaps any more than we would with Richard Rautenholtz. You will learn that he is unapologetically a master at getting out of financial trouble by stealing his clients’ funds in real estate deals or even just swindling them into opening up their credit cards.
Only the likes of Robert Deniro and David Schwimmer have managed to accomplish this kind of sleight of hand with modern media while coming across as deliciously two-dimensional villains. We cheer, even as he’s ripping people off, when he writes notes on their bathroom walls with a lipstick stick. Anyone who knows what social media can do to make us feel like we’re anywhere and everybody and all at once while getting blamed for so-called “fake news” should make sure to see this movie, because it gives a perfect glimpse into just how wonderfully sleazy this medium can be.
Nietzsche once said, “Ideology serves to establish a certain certain truth about what is just or justifiable. But if after this truth we have reached some approximation to real life, then we will naturally seek a different truth …” Lindholm succeeds in bridging that gap to some degree, but mostly he asks us to question everything we believe and even question our basic selves. Perhaps if social media were more subject to reality, we’d take more kindly to it. Perhaps not.
I caught up with Lindholm at the Zentropa Studios in Copenhagen. In addition to Red Rocket, he’s been directing all three Fast and Furious movies since 2016, the first of which, The Fate of the Furious, grossed over $1.5 billion worldwide. (Lindholm was not actually an assistant director on the first one, but he had a hand in each one since then.) When I met him, he was in Vancouver shooting the Fate of the Furious sequel, although he warned that this is the last Fast and Furious he’ll be involved with.
During the interview, I asked him if he had any thoughts on the change in tone that a series with a consistently good box office performance like The Fate of the Furious has undergone. He explained how the actors on the various franchises grow to have more responsibility and appreciation for their craft in terms of which characters they choose to play and in building bigger set pieces that put audiences closer to the action than the reality that they see in earlier movies. With these movies, actors playing bigger and bigger parts end up expanding their own performances in ways that help movies like Red Rocket, because they can be a deeper exploration of characters in a way that isn’t possible in other movie genres.
Beyond that, I asked him about the future of the Fast and Furious franchise and what he thought the future of their film genre would be. Like all of the best Danish directors, he doesn’t really have a stake in any of the various franchises that he films in. Maybe that will change, but for now, he’s running the Red Rocket that he always knew he’d be.
With a provocative premise, an astute look at a very complicated, very dirty world, and a strong cast, Lindholm’s Red Rocket does a great job of presenting a lot of what makes our lives both interesting and so challenging. But never fear — there are also a lot of heartwarming scenes to balance it all out.