Mark Reviews Movies

RED RIDING

4 Stars (out of 4)

THE YEAR OF OUR LORD 1974

Director: Julian Jarrold

Cast: Andrew Garfield, Sean Bean, Rebecca Hall, Anthony Flanagan, David Morrissey, Peter Mullan, Eddie Marsan, John Henshaw, Robert Sheehan, Warren Clarke

Running Time: 1:42

THE YEAR OF OUR LORD 1980

Director: James Marsh

Cast: Paddy Considine, Maxine Peake, Tony Pitts, Jim Carter, David Morrissey, Peter Mullan, Sean Harris, Robert Sheehan, Warren Clarke

Running Time: 1:33

THE YEAR OF OUR LORD 1983

Director: Anand Tucker

Cast: David Morrissey, Mark Addy, Jim Carter, Warren Clarke, Michelle Dockery, Robert Sheehan, Peter Mulllan, Sean Bean

Running Time: 1:40

MPAA Rating: NR

Release Date: 2/5/10


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Review by Mark Dujsik | September 12, 2010

There are clearly three separate films that constitute Red Riding, the sprawling indictment of police corruption in the West Yorkshire county of England. Covering a series of crimes over almost a decade from 1974 (the year the county was established, divided from the West Riding subdivision) until 1983, the temptation is to see them for what they are individually, and yet every medium in which it is shown (from its origin as a three-part miniseries on British public broadcast television over three consecutive weeks to its release in the United States as a single-ticket theatrical release) demands that it be taken as a whole. And yes, the old adage about the whole versus the sum of its parts definitively holds true in this case.

Each film has a different director, and all three are written by Tony Grisoni, based on a quartet of novels by David Peace (the adaptation excludes the events of a 1977 installment), and feature the same actors playing the recurring characters throughout them all. The series is a hugely ambitious production, although the technical side is eclipsed by the accomplishment of Grisoni's nuanced screenplay, which lets each section breathe its own life while embracing the overarching narrative and thematic thread in even the minutest of details.

Structurally, the series begins from an outsider's view and gradually moves in—a sort of investigative account. It's an appropriate analogy, as The Year of Our Lord 1974, the first film, focuses on Eddie Dunford (Andrew Garfield), a young, upstart reporter (a "Young Turk," his colleagues assume from the start) for a local newspaper.

The Yorkshire police hold a press conference: A ten-year-old girl has gone missing, a detective named Jobson (David Morrissey), who appears in all three chapters, tells the assembled press. Her mother cries, pleading with those who will see or hear the story to report any information they might have. After some tips and a trip to the archives, Eddie discovers this disappearance is similar to another three previous ones. "They never do catch anyone," a local observes.

Paula Garland (Rebecca Hall) is the mother of one of those missing girls, and Eddie has no idea how to interview her without sounding like an insensitive fool ("Is there anything you think the police could have done better," he asks; "They could have found my daughter," she stabs). He does his background check, and the two become much closer. Paula becomes one of the faces of the survivor in the series—a group whose numbers are low from the start and face ruin at every turn.  The pain never fully fades for her. Eddie's involvement in her life causes it to swell back up while keeping it, to a degree, at bay.

Eddie's co-workers try to set him on the right path, although the direction they point is entirely dependent on their motives. Barry (Anthony Flanagan) sees conspiracies everywhere, including death squads, and sets up the series' continual, moral imperative: "The Devil triumps when good men do naught." His eyes are set on John Dawson (Sean Bean), a wealthy developer who's looking to build a massive shopping center. Dawson wants Eddie on his side, too, for a "mutually beneficial" relationship—looking the other way for information. Meanwhile, Eddie's editor (John Henshaw) wants him to ignore the connection to the other missing girls, as part of a similarly advantageous relationship with top cop Bill Molloy (Warren Clarke).

The first segment is entirely expository, and Grisoni is succinct yet thorough in establishing the particulars of the plot, solidifying the distinct classes at play (victims and survivors are especially important to develop here, as they become talking points and photographs during the next film), and revealing the main thrust of the series, as Eddie unravels and becomes the victim of the incestuous relationship between the police and the criminals (with a complicit press) that ensures justice will never be done. "This is the North," a police official says in a recurring motif that becomes a rallying cry: "We do what we want."

In the midst of the ever-spreading plot, director Julian Jarrold breaks away in moments of stillness in Eddie's relationship with Paula, and the film builds to a startling sequence of torture in staccato images and a feverish race towards reclaiming a sense justice before attempting to escape the agents of its bastardization.

The feeling of despair at the end of the first part continues and seems quickly averted in James Marsh's The Year of Our Lord 1980. Immediately, Marsh shows imagery and video detailing the crimes of the Yorkshire Ripper, who has killed twelve women (Graffiti in town keeps score). Evidence arrives in letters and a tape, and Molloy announces on television that he sympathizes with the killer's feelings.

For the first time we've seen, the Yorkshire police make a sensible decision, and Molloy is out, replaced by an outsider Peter Hunter (Paddy Considine). Hunter has a past with Yorkshire. In 1974, he investigated a shooting which involved two of Yorkshire's finest: Bob Craven (Sean Harris) and Tommy Douglas (Tony Mooney). When we last saw the two, they were roughing up Eddie for asking too many questions about the wrong people. Now Douglas is laid up at home, and Craven has been promoted.

Hunter chooses a team to aid him. Helen Marshall (Maxine Peake) and John Nolan (Tony Pitts) have worked with him before, and Helen was once his lover. She assures him she won't tell Hunter's wife (Lesley Sharp), whose onset of illness six years ago caused him to cut short his investigation of Craven and Douglas.

We know the type of man Craven is, hovering over Hunter and twisting the details of case files, and now see the evolution of his character—from faceless thug operating entirely on violence to master manipulator who, in his current position, no longer even needs to threaten violence. It's in that sense of dramatic irony that Grisoni finds the tension of the second installment.

Marsh's film is the most independent and paradoxical of the three. It serves as a narrative intermission between the more directly connected first and third parts while also operating as a thematic bridge. Bits and pieces of Hunter's search for the Yorkshire Ripper fit into what's happened in the film before (primarily the shooting six years prior), and small details, like the bleak irony in the way one of the Ripper's victims shares a name with a dead girl years ago, elucidate a sense of ongoing hopelessness.

Combating that is Hunter, a "good man" (of the sort Eddie only heard about) doing something. Considine holds a professional composure throughout, whether he is discussing with Helen the terms of their new relationship or meeting a direct standoff with Craven. There's sincerity in his every look, a trustworthiness in his every word.

The investigation is once again key, although the intimidation that results from discovering the wrong information is a matter of politics. Marsh is working from the inside from the start, and the film is direct and impartial, much like Hunter.

On the other end of the spectrum is the final chapter The Year of Our Lord 1983, directed by Anand Tucker with full intent to pull everything together. Starting with a flashback to 1974, the past's influence on the present is central and quite literal.

There are two protagonists this time around: Jobson, who starts on the inside where he always been and attempts to escape, and attorney John Piggott (Mark Addy).   Another young girl of ten is missing. Her father begs, pleads for anyone with any information to come forward, and watching and listening, it is all too familiar for Jobson. He wants to look into the case from 1974 and enlists the aid of a psychic (Saskia Reeves), who suspects the girl is on the verge between life and death.

Piggott has returned to Yorkshire after the death of his mother. A neighbor asks that he speak to her son, who is in jail for a murder nine years ago. With the news of this new disappearance, she is convinced that now there is evidence to prove his innocence.

Intercut with the two men's search for the truth are scenes from the events of 1974, seen from a different point of view. We watch how the police "questioned" the discoverer of the victim's body, and the aim of their means is foreshadowed with a simple phrase. Jobson watches until he can do so no longer, and we remember, once again, the words about evil Eddie heard.

Ancillary characters from the previous installments become more important. BJ (Robert Sheehan), a drifting gigolo who has seen it all, is returning to Yorkshire after time away, ready to confront his past. He, too, is the rare specimen of a survivor in this world—broken and beaten but one of the few signs of hope. Martin Laws (Peter Mullan) has been a spiritual comfort in the past—to the families of the girls who went missing and to the confused Helen—and he still lives there to see it happening again.

In this chapter, Grisoni's script clings to the story of the first; it is impossible to separate the two. The plot is primarily about connecting loose strings, although Morrissey and Addy, both playing the reluctant hero for two very different reasons, manage to keep the repeated information and new discoveries concentrated to a personal level. Tucker's climactic melding of the past and present, implementing a blue and amber color scheme respectively, is last-minute exposition made shattering by the investment to everything before it.

Red Riding is a byzantine labyrinth of the sordid and crooked. Even the glimmer of hope at the end coexists with the scars of the past. They may diminish but will never vanish.

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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