Red Riding (2010) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Red Riding (2010)

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ANDREW LIKEThree directors.  Five hours of film.  Told in a story that stretches over nine years of corruption and fear perpetrated by the Yorkshire police department.  The Red Riding trilogy is a considerable undertaking, navigating a complicated mix of history and fiction with nary a trustworthy storyteller in sight.  By the time the final credits have rolled on the third film we're left to wonder if anything has really changed or if the system will ever really be able to permit it.

Red Riding first debuted on Channel 4 in the UK, March of 2009.  It consisted of three different films taking place in 1974, 1980 and 1983 - all having something to do with the killings of the Yorkshire Ripper.  Since then the films have been repackaged and released to theaters as a whole.  Taken as that whole, it's an impressive experience.  The three directors Julian Jarrold (74), James Marsh (80) and Anand Tucker (83) all put distinctive stamps on their corner of history while maintaining the same charge of paranoia and indifference.  If you're genuinely curious as to what the Yorkshire Ripper was all about, this is not the trilogy for you.  If you're wondering about the corruption that let it go on for so long, the people that maintain that system, and the effects (or lack thereof) of the murders than these will be perfect.

The films are about as concerned with the serial killer as the police are in catching him.  In the first film, In The Year of Our Lord 1974, the police are established as having long stopped caring about anything other than maintaining the status quo.  Since that status quo consists of laundering drug money back to the police in exchange for keeping the big things quiet, it's a mutually beneficial arrangement.  They strive to keep the big events quiet, and when someone starts dumping the bodies of little girls in a stretch of land where a shopping mall is supposed to go up they do everything they can to hurry up the case.  But their compulsion to conceal the truth is as uncontrollable as the Yorkshire Ripper, so when bodies appear again until 1980 no one is particularly surprised.

1974, when no one can see anyone clearly.

The effects stretch a few in the department thin.  Most notably Detective Superintendent Maurice Jobson (David Morrissey), who is one of the only consistent characters throughout all three films.  He's a stoic presence, but how many confessions can the department beat out of the mentally handicapped before someone starts to notice a stink?  More importantly, who benefits from the cases being solved quietly?  The police, obviously, but there's also the terrifying land developer John Dawson (Sean Bean) that seems to have his hands in everyone's pocket.  His presence looms, as well as many others that make fleeting appearances in all of the films.

Despite the breadth of history and incredible cast of characters, it is relatively easy to keep track of the background players with a bit of careful study.  There are no coincidences in Red Riding because people have too much vested interest in the land, their reputations, and so on.  Key players are sometimes blips on the horizon, and reveal more of their involvement as time goes by.  Granted, all the careful plotting in the world can result in a boring film if all it's concerned with are the connections and revelations.  Thankfully, the approach of using different directors for each of the years proves to be a remarkably effective tool in piecing together the mindset of that time.

They start brilliantly in 1974.  Julian Jarrold takes the crown early and, despite noble attempts from James Marsh and Anand Tucker, easily has the most interesting and well developed piece of the three.  It also contains the best acting of the series from the terrifying Sean Bean, and series standout Andrew Garfield.  He plays Eddie Dunford, a reporter assigned to the cover the case of a missing girl from a developing area of Yorkshire.  Something seems to snap inside him while at a press conference discussing her.  Dunford feels the eyes of the police, the grieving parents, and some haunting image burn into him as they plea for her safe return.

1980, when investigations are taken seriously.

Dunford slowly unravels as his friends start to turn up dead with each lead he uncovers.  A relationship grows between him and the mother of another missing child.  The missing girl is eventually found dead and there's evidence someone tried to stitch wings to her back.  Jarrold shows how fragmented this makes Dunford's mind, unable to focus in the real world he retreats into hallucinatory fantasies again and again.  Garfield matches this appropriately, with a greatly unhinged performance leading to a reckless showdown that is straight out of the coldest noir handbook.  As far as openers are concerned, 1974 is a jaw dropper.  There is gorgeous photography abound as Dunford listens to a potential suspect talk about the wings of a little girl, shown reflected in the water and revealing an empty sky.

All of this spoiled me somewhat, because 1980 is somewhat of a letdown.  It takes place six years after the conclusion of 1974, and while not much has been changed, the pieces are slowly being set into motion for some kind of showdown.  Or at least fooling you into thinking that there will be.  This section feature Peter Hunter (Paddy Considine), an inspector from Scotland Yard assigned to the Yorkshire Ripper case after another girl turns up missing.  As he investigates he is told, in a roundabout fashion, that he can do and ask whatever he likes so long as he doesn't do or ask something the police officials disagree with.  While one antagonist in 1974 could be seen as Dunford's slowly shattering psyche, the only real antagonist in 1980 is the continual stonewalling of Hunter's investigation.

This wouldn't be too bad if there was a bit more to this section than that.  It doesn't have the near psychotic imagery of the first, or the haunting sense of paranoia, or the superb acting (though, to be fair, Garfield really outshines everyone in the cast).  It amounts to little more than an above average police procedural minus the actual procedure.  There's a bit of gallows humor to be had in the premise, and director James Marsh does a good job of pointing this out at times, but it makes the mistake of feeling like what it really is - the stopgap between the first and third films.

1983, when time loses meaning for the survivors.

1983 is, blissfully, a great return to form and one that I (for many plot spoiling reasons) cannot speak too much of.  Truly, 1983 should probably be considered 1970 to 1985, but the bulk of the events transpire in 1983.  It hearkens back to the haunting imagery of the first but with a tinge of responsibility and regret.  Past events are viewed from the eyes of someone who was too much of a coward to stop things a long time ago, and an important (and mostly invisible) narrator reveals himself to explain just how connected the whole system really is.  While I must be unfortunately mum on the third film, it really ties everything together fantastically and does provide a solid conclusion to the trilogy.

The deliberate pace of Red Riding may not be to everyone's liking, but police work isn't about the bang shoot outs and arrests.  Sometimes it's just about what lengths everyone will go to keep the status quo alive, regardless of who has to be sacrificed to do so.  Sometimes it's dishonest.  And sometimes there are people in power that are willing to sacrifice some kids to stay that way.  Doesn't mean that it'll work forever, but life's like that sometimes.

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Red Riding (2010)

Directed by Julian Jarrold, James Marsh, Anand Tucker.
Written by Tony Grisoni and David Peace.
Starring Andrew Garfield, Sean Bean, David Morrissey, and Paddy Considine.

Posted by Andrew

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