Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Red Riding Trilogy (2010)

The trick with this film is that each film is actually a greater part of the whole, and so the same will be with my review: rather than have a separate post for each film, I'm combining my reviews into a single post. This is for the sake of clarity both for you and for me.
For those of you who haven't heard of the Red Riding Trilogy, the films are based on the books by David Pearce, which are themselves based on the Yorkshire Ripper killings that plagued the northern English countryside during the 1970s. In the first installment, 1974, reporter Eddie Dunford (newly-minted Spider-Man Andrew Garfield) investigates the murders, even though no one wants to talk about them: the families of the victims are insulted by his desire to talk to them about what happened, and the police brutally demonstrate their contempt for his investigations. What he uncovers, though, is far more than he had expected.
Two films kept coming to mind as I watched this film: All the President's Men (content) and, more significantly, Zodiac (both in narrative and in style). Director Julian Jarrold (Kinky Boots, Brideshead Revisited) presents northern England as a gloomy, foggy world, a perfect metaphor for the film's themes of government corruption and cover-ups. There are several beautifully shot sequences, especially a scene in which Eddie arrives at the destruction of a gypsy camp hidden within the fog, and Jarrold seems to borrow from David Fincher's superb atmospherics in Zodiac (that's a compliment). And make no mistake, this is no rote genre film: the story crackles with intensity, and the various twists and turns are presented in a fresh way.
The cast is all-around terrific, with Sean Bean playing a shady developer and Rebecca Hall as a grieving mother, but this is Garfield's show, and he gives one of the most magnificent performances put to screen this year. Ever determined to find the truth, Eddie could have been just another sacrificial lamb of a character, but Garfield plays him with subtlety and grace, turning him into a worldly and all-too-believable character. And with Never Let Me Go and The Social Network coming later this year, this should be a big year for him. I can't wait to see his next film.
There's a line toward the middle of the film when Eddie follows up on a lead with a woman in a mental hospital. When he tells her he's a journalist, she asks, "You tell lies?" to which he quickly responds, "Its the job." The same could be said of the film: lying is just everyone's job, and the lies are as think as the Yorkshire fog.
Six years later, the Ripper killings continue, and things don't seem to be getting much better. The second third of the trilogy picks up with Peter Hunter (Paddy Considine), a detective who's been secretly placed in charge of the killings. He puts together a team to start reviewing the victims, especially since a copycat killer has emerged and someone is attacking people involved in the investigation. All the while, the media is becoming more and more critical of the police, as after six years and multiple leads, the killer has still not been caught.
With this installment directed by James Marsh (Man on Wire), there's a notable change of focus. Its a bit more conventional than 1974, and Marsh's direction doesn't really bring anything new to the films or the genre. But that's not to say that the drama isn't high here. The themes of conspiracy and police scandal continue from the first film, only where in the former film they burned slowly, here things come to a head, climaxing in an inferno that leaves you begging for the finale. Its a slow buildup, with a couple of excess filler scenes (which hurts the film, especially since its the shortest in the series), but the payoff is incredible.
The acting in these films could not be more fantastic. Considine's Peter goes through a similar evolution (or rather devolution) as Eddie in 1974, but here he's not as fresh-eyed. Rather, you can see the fear in Peter's eyes as everything begins to unravel, and Considine makes sure we feel that fear and understand the precarious situation he's found himself in. He's the reluctant center of backstage attention, and as he falls deeper and deeper he becomes more and more desperate to get out. Its a great performance, worthy of comparison to Garfield's in the first.
Is 1980 as excellent as 1974? No, but its still great cinema. This of course is not unusual for the middle chapters of trilogies such as this one: we've already been through the set-up, and we're waiting for the conclusion. But 1980 moves us between these points in an interesting and enjoyable way.
And so we reach the final chapter. This one comes from the point of view of Maurice Jobson (David Morrisey), a police officer from the other two episodes who is suffering from his conscience. There's also a plot about John Piggot (Mark Addy), a public solicitor who looks into the case against a man brought in as the Yorkshire Ripper (the mentally challenged man from 1974). A series of major twists and turns unveils some startling facts, building up to a very satisfying conclusion for the trilogy.
Each film in the trilogy has had a similar theme: disintegration. The Yorkshire Ripper claims plenty of literal victims, but what's interesting about these films is how they focus on the periphrial lives that he took: Eddie in 1974, Peter in 1980, and now not only Maurice and John but the entire West Yorkshire police force as well. And its a marvel to watch the master plot unravel. Credit Anand Tucker's (Hilary & Jackie, Shopgirl) masterful direction for the way all of the film's various ends come together. The film relies heavily on flashback to make sense of everything, and if you haven't paid attention in the previous two segments, then things won't make too much sense.
It's hard to say too much about this film without spoiling it, so I'll only recommend that you take the time to see all three films. Its a powerful series that's not so much about the Yorkshire Ripper himself, but rather the people whose lives he altered, both directly and indirectly.


Simon said...

This series was so excellent, but just direly depressing.

Didn't think Garfield's performance was that great...it was very good, but you never really saw his conflict, he just went from one emotion to the next. Considine was amazing, though.

Jason H. said...

Direly depressing is right. But so good.