Reviewed by Heather Buckley
Starring Andrew Garfield, Rebecca Hall, Robert Sheehan, Paddy Considine, Maxine Peake, David Morrissey, Warren Clark
Directed by Julian Jarrold (1974), James Marsh (1980), Anand Tucker (1983)
Here comes Lil’ Red Riding Hood…
“And here’s a news flash: Yorkshire Ripper 15. Woman’s Lib 0.” The Exploited
Red Riding is a nightmarish neo-noir in three parts — The Year of Our Lord 1974, 1980, and 1984. Based on the novels by David Peace, each year twists and turns and tangles itself into a complex web of characters and corruption — for this is Yorkshire (The North) as the characters state many times: The people in power will do as they please and leave only hell and suffering in their wake.
1974 focuses on Eddie Dunford (Andrew Garfield), a rookie reporter investigating a series of child murders. The latest victim, a little girl with swan wings sewn on back, turns up dead next to a recently torched gypsy camp. As Eddie digs deeper into the case he falls for Paula (Rebecca Hall), one of the dead children’s mothers, meets BJ (Robert Sheehan), a young hustler with inside information, suffers numerous injuries inflicted by local officers Tommy (Tony Mooney) and Bob (Sean Harris) and questions businessman John Dawson (Sean Bean), who just happens to own the land where the last child was found dead. And then the real blood bath begins…
1980 follows Officer Peter Hunter (Paddy Considine), a detective placed on the Yorkshire Ripper case with his handpicked team: Helen (Maxine Peake), an old fame, and John (Tony Pitts). They find The Ripper but, something more menacing winds its way into Peter’s world that has everything to do with the Karachi Club Massacre of 1974. Peter’s supervisor Harold Angus (Jim Carter) is certainly not happy with him nor helpful, but maybe Peter’s new contact BJ holds the key?
Lastly, 1983 features what seems to be the search for redemption of Superintendent Maurice Jobson (David Morrissey) and Bill Molloy (Warren Clarke), who have suffered in silence under the wicked ways of the Yorkshire authorities. Hazel Atkins (Tamsin Mitchell), a small blonde child, goes missing in what is suspected to be the next cycle of child murders. Jobson knows developmentally disabled Michael (Daniel Mays) was wrongly accused of murders when he was locked away in 1980. Now, Maurice and Bill decide, is the time for truth. Time to drive out the wolves and find what is hidden under all those “beautiful carpets.”
Red Riding was helmed by three directors (1974: Julian Jarrold, 1980: James Marsh, 1983: Anand Tucker) and shot by three cinematographers (1974: Rob Hardy, 1980: Igor Martin Vic, 1983: David Higgs). The look and feel does not vary extensively save 1974, which was shot noticeably more stylized and gauzy like Inland Empire by way of The Limey. I preferred 1974 on first viewing because of this more stylized approach, but as the series moved on, I did notice that gauzy/glowing technique creeping back into frame, specifically in flashbacks and then to finally crescendo during the climax. One could say the farther we go back in time or during ecstatic states, the more dream-like the world becomes, but Red Riding only has nightmares for us, even the little children.
1974 is also key because it contextualizes our characters and events. The heavy atmosphere prepares us for the journey ahead; a journey through alleyways and ghettos, though crooked businesses and police precincts — the lenses always meditating on the despair, corruption, and refuse, yet the color timing, compositions and lighting always remaining beautiful and almost ethereal and exquisite. The film itself is fabled femme fatale. Alluring, and hypnotic but dangerous.
The acting is stellar and consistent throughout the series. Highlights include Robert Sheehan’s (Song for a Craggy Boy) BJ as a glam rock male prostitute. He is enigmatic, tragic, but never lacking hope; I would like to see him one day play Marc Bolan in the story of his life. Veteran character actor Jim Carter (Top Secret and Haunted Honeymoon) is exquisitely corrupt and mean-as-hell as the head of the Yorkshire police, very volatile and grotesque to watch. Warren Clarke (Dim from A Clockwork Orange) as Bill Malloy also gives a strong performance as a man trying, against all odds to save a child thought lost against the cynicism of the system.
The script by Tony Grisoni (Tideland and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) is a joy but has its share of plot holes. Some scenes and discoveries are glossed over or truths assumed too readily. I was lost a few times and tangled in Red Riding’s world. There are a lot of pieces and characters to keep track of. You get to hang out with hustlers and losers, people that cheat on their wives and kill and rape children. No one is nice. But some are redeemed, but to what end? You can’t escape what you saw and it imprints itself upon you.
The film has been compared to L.A. Confidential, but upon closer look it also shares a lot with traditional noir writer Dashell Hammet’s work, which is marked with an almost suffocating plot density. But it is this complexity that keeps the movie chugging along at over a 5 hours. Red Riding is a “page turner.” I wanted to know what it was all about, why all the corruption and endlessly bleak outlooks, what the hell was going on in Yorkshire? Was it a metaphor? Was it a trap?
And I would not suggest, dear reader, that you watch one part and not the others, or even experience them out of order. It is a serial; all parts move together forward and take you to the next storyline. Also those seeking The Ripper, he is a plot point in the film and is not a featured character. One could even argue his appearance as thematic, yet another “wolf” in a film, where the seeking of power leaves only a wake of victims.
Red Riding is bleak and beautiful. For those that enjoy neo-noir (this is certainly not horror) I feel you will be satisfied and the films give you a lot to sort through. I would even recommend multiple viewings to take it all in. So then you too can figure out and question the facts of it all. Since this is noir, the more questions you ask, the more questions you find, the more the ambiguities and horror will gouge savagely at your humanity.
4 out of 5
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