Red Riding Trilogy REVIEW

Red Riding Trilogy REVIEW
Based on David Peace's recent quartet of crime novels, the Red Riding trilogy brings to life an ultra dark, relentlessly bleak depiction of a society riven by social decay; of characters battling with their conscience, and others for whom the battle never seemed to exist. It is a tale told by three gifted storytellers, full of violence, corruption and dread, signifying... Nihilism. If any of this sounds like thematic territory that you can enjoy (or endure) being exposed to, then you are encouraged to read on. If, on the other hand, your idea of a rewarding moviegoing experience is an open-air, summery viewing of Mama Mia! complete with sing-a-longs and strawberry pavlova, this will probably not be your cup of tea. That's just my guess. 

Set against the backdrop of the "Yorkshire Ripper" killings that plagued northern England in the latter half of the seventies, the films relate the stories of four flawed men, each attempting to uncover the truth behind a series of grisly murders, mostly of young girls. Yet the truth is buried beneath a thick veil of official misconduct, and the closer each anti-hero inches to discovering it, the more forcefully he butts heads with elements that would prevent him from doing so. Demons from the past create deep rifts in these protagonists' psyches, and are as crippling to their progress as any of the real-life demons - from crooked cops to oily businessmen - that populate the narrative. From its large cast and complex plotting to its grim ambience and portrayal of institutional corruption, Red Riding will almost certainly strike a chord with fans of HBO's phenomenal series, The Wire. It is also an example of modern noir at its finest, as the gloomy Yorkshire moors serve as a powerful correlate to the disease-like lugubriousness displayed by most of the characters. Fritz Lang, in other words, would be proud. 

1974 is the first film in the trilogy, and follows rookie journalist Eddie Dunford (a superb Andrew Garfield) as he strives to break a story that he can stake his reputation on. With the disappearance of schoolgirl Claire Kemplay, he believes he has found just that, after forming a link with the cases of two other girls who went missing earlier in the decade. While Dunford is away interviewing one of their parents, Kemplay's body is discovered on a construction site, and his editor then hands the story over to a rival. Undeterred, Dunford ploughs forward with his investigation, and is soon swept up in an elaborate plot involving the police, a local property magnate (played by Sean Bean) and the widowed mother of one of the missing girls (Rebecca Hall).
1980 takes place after six more years' worth of brutal murders have failed to produce any results, causing the British Home Office to deploy Manchester officer Peter Hunter (Paddy Considine) to head up a special task force to look into the investigation. While probing a shooting incident that took place in 1974, Hunter had already made several enemies on the Yorkshire force, whose current theories concerning "the Ripper" diverge considerably from his own. Finding himself increasingly isolated, he begins to have serious doubts about whom he can trust, and when a police officer on the verge of revealing crucial information is gruesomely murdered along with his daughter, Hunter begins to fear for his own life. 

The final installment, 1983, focuses on Detective Chief Superintendent Maurice Jobson (David Morrissey), who notices some startling resemblances between the latest child abduction and the Kemplay case in 1974. Much to the consternation of his fellow officers, Jobson becomes consumed with guilt when forced to confront the fact that he may have helped to convict the wrong man for the previous murders. Persuaded to appeal this miscarriage of justice by the inmate's mother, reluctant solicitor John Piggott (Mark Addy) gradually unearths a hideous reality that has been covered up for over a decade, and which hits much closer to home than he would ever have imagined. 

Directed by Julian Jarrold (Brideshead Revisited), James Marsh (Man On Wire) and Anand Tucker (Hilary And Jackie) in that order, the first two films work well enough as stand-alone pieces, although screenwriter Tony Grisoni (of Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas repute) has fashioned a triptych in which the sum is indeed greater than the parts, and all three deserve to be watched. From the earthy Yorkshire dialect to the painstaking character work, Grisoni has created a world rich in detail, that is matched at every turn by outstanding production value. While Jarrold's 1974 is the most captivating of the series - and undeniably has the strongest aesthetic - all of the films do an excellent job of capturing the sweaty paranoia of the era. Cinematography mirrors the story's macabre and occult sensibility, musical scores - as well as comprising some great songs from the decade - convey a perpetual sense of foreboding, and claustrophobic interiors serve to heighten the overall feeling of confinement. Smoke-filled offices, in fact, are just a remote example of the kind of attention paid to the evocation of the period, with the level of historical accuracy easily resting on a par with that of David Fincher's Zodiac.

Red Riding actually invites comparison to Zodiac in several ways, with Andrew Garfield (of Lions for Lambs and the brilliant Boy A) in certain respects channeling Gyllenhaal's underdog Robert Graysmith, who also puts his life on hold in dogged pursuit of an elusive killer. While Garfield does a sterling job of expressing Dunford's troubled state of mind and urge to defy his mother's assertion that he has "never done a good thing," his exact motivation for needing to solve the case still suffers from a deficit, as Grisoni does less than is necessary to flesh out the nature of his relationship to his dead father. Elsewhere, there is not a single bad performance to sour the mood, and stand-out turns by Sean Bean as egomaniacal tycoon John Dawson, and Paddy Considine as an understated yet steely Peter Hunter, round off a first-rate cast. 

After commenting on Grisoni's remarkable achievement in having compressed four lengthy novels into five hours of thrilling suspense, it must also be noted that the occasionally slow pacing and a number of apparent plot holes do let the films down in certain places. Regardless, they are still exciting to watch as much for the catharsis they afford as for the stimulating mystery building up to revealing the ultimate culprit behind the killings. Although largely fictionalized, David Peace claims to have based much of the material on his experiences growing up in Yorkshire during the "Ripper" years, and the fact that this provincial region could play host to anywhere near such a catalogue of human horrors seems at once counter-intuitive yet perfectly likely (one need only think of Straw Dogs for a great cinematic analogue.) By the trilogy's end - and after having heard the phrase "This is the North, where we do what we want." a few too many times - one is certainly inclined to view the killings more as a symptom of a highly dysfunctional community than as anything like freak occurrences.
Produced by Channel 4 with IFC Films distributing, the films will be rolled out in select cinemas across the U.S. over the next two weeks, with many showing combined screenings. Unless you are a member of the Mama Mia! contingent or the Yorkshire Tourist Board, you owe it to yourself to check them out. 

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