Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Taking On The RED RIDING Trilogy

This set of 3 feature length films based on David Pearce's semi-true crime novel series "Red Riding Quartet" is currently playing in limited release theatrically and is available on IFC Films On Demand.

RED RIDING: 1974 (Dir. Juliam Jarrold, 2009)


This first "episode" starts off with an air of a British ZODIAC, but a darker prism of power is revealed beyond the smoky newsrooms and seedy cop dives as the film reaches its brutally unsettling conclusion.

In "The Year Of Our Lord" 1974, wet-behind-the-ears yet arrogant Yorkshire journalist Eddie Dunford (Andrew Garfield) sums up the scene as he arrives at a press conference: 

"A little girl goes missing. The pack salivates. If it bleeds, it leads, right?" When the girl in question is found murdered Dunford makes the connection to similar crimes involving children committed in the same area in the years before. Like a classic film noir caper, there are many competing plot-lines for our intrepid reporter.

A fellow scribe (Anthony Flanagan) has files full of proof of police corruption, the land where the girls were found is owned by a menacing local mogul (Sean Bean) who has plans to build a major shopping complex there if he can get rid of squatting gypsies, and, the icing on the cake, Dunford has just begun an affair with the mother of the most recent missing girl (Rebecca Hall).

The grim wasteland of the English countryside in the mid 70's is the perfect backdrop for this study - not of serial killings, but of the twisted knots in the fabric of society that naive newbies like Garfield's Dunford get tangled in with little hope of struggling free.

Despite getting roughed up by thug cops on the take, Dunford routinely mocks his elders, but the suave cunning Bean posits that he and the rookie reporter are a lot alike: "We like to fuck and make a buck and we're not choosy how."

Although it doesn't quite earn its TAXI DRIVER-ish climax, RED RIDING: 1974 is a compelling piece of cinema with a minimum of artsy touches and depth to its grit. Despite director Jarrold employing few gratuitous period flourishes it could be mistaken for an actual 70's era thriller - one that's as concerned with the darkness itself as much as what lurks in it.

RED RIDING: 1980 (Dir. James Marsh, 2009) MAN ON WIRE Documentary film maker Marsh helms this second installment which centers on Paddy Considine as Investigator Peter Hunter being brought in on the case of the Yorkshire Ripper in, again, as the title ominously tells us "The Year of Our Lord" 1980.

Hunter believes that one of the murders, the girl from the first film, wasn't committed by the Ripper. It muddies the waters that one of his team (Maxine Peak) is a former colleague with whom he once had an affair. It also impedes the investigation that seemingly every policeman on the force opposes Hunter for reasons that become shockingly clear in the second half.

RED RIDING 1980 takes its time getting going but when it does it becomes a Hell of a potboiler and, perhaps, the strongest of the trilogy. Considine anchors the film admirably, convincingly descending from confident determination to a mode of desperate obsession. The film itself is sturdier than its predecessor especially as its pace tightens with Marsh displaying a palpable mastery of tension.

RED RIDING: 1983 (Dir. Anand Tucker, 2009)

"This is the North - where we do what we want!"

This phrase is repeated throughout these films as both a declaration and a warning to outsiders, but its full impact is not really felt until this concluding chapter - or maybe that's just the power of repetition.

While the first one was seen through the eyes of a journalist and the second the eyes of a police detective, the third has 2 protagonists - a public solicitor named John Piggott (Mark Addy) and returning character Detective Superintendent Maurice Jobson (David Morrissey). Each is on the opposite end of the case making their way into the murky middle.

The loose ends of the first 2 films are tied up competently here but there's unnecessary usage of stylistic abstraction present. The sex scenes in the series before had a perfunctory feel to them but here they're completely stitched in with no passion present.

Only the spare moments of violence have visceral energy and those don't come off as effectively as in the previous chapters. Though Morrissey effectively personifies repressed stodginess, the 2 leads aren't strong enough to guide us through the subdued action which drags down the pace.

It's certainly possible that these 3 films could've been much better if tightened into a single epic movie, but maybe we'll see how that well that works out if Ridley Scott takes on an Americanized remake (yes, I know he's British).

All 3 RED RIDING films are worthwhile but the first 2 are the essential ones - the third provides resolution. Oddly, only the first one has English subtitles. Since this helps a lot with the heavy accents, it's a pity that the others don't follow suit.

Yet even with the matter of some impenetrable dialogue and though the films' total running time of over 5 hours makes taking in the whole trilogy into a bit of a slog - it's a mostly satisfying slog.

More later...

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