Red Riding
Eat up, boyo. These films won’t end for five hours.

Theatrical Release Date: 03/19/2010

Beginning last month, The UK Channel 4 productions of the “Red Riding” trilogy have been getting released in various cities in America – not one by one but as a set. This is important as, like any good trilogy, you need all three films to complete the story.

They are based on David Peace’s quartet of novels but for budgetary reasons were condensed into three installments (and for us Yanks, a Riding is the British equivalent of a district as the story concerns certain areas of the North of England). “1977″ is missing (otherwise you’d see a nice and neat 3 year gap between each segment) and while that particular novel (of which a finished screenplay was made but not filmed) would have helped to flesh out some more of the characters, the end result is not necessarily lessened by its omission.

The overlying details of corruption in the North of England is fiction but the Yorkshire Ripper was a real serial killer in the 70s and 80s. Keeping it all together is screenwriter Tony Grisoni. While each film is helmed by a different director (Julian Jarrold, James Marsh, Anand Tucker) and even shot on different film stock (16mm, 35mm, Digital), Grisoni’s narrative translation of Peace’s novels makes all three films feel as one.

Red Riding: 1974

Golden Mug2010 Golden Mug

Best Director (Julian Jarrold)
Best Supporting Actress (Rebecca Hall)
Best Cinematography (Rob Hardy)
Best Art Direction

Director: Julian Jarrold
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Rebecca Hall, Anthony Flanagan, Sean Bean, Peter Mullan, Eddie Marsan, Chris Walker, Shaun Dooley, Jim Carter, Warren Clarke, Sean Harris, Steven Robertson, Tony Mooney, Robert Sheehan, John Henshaw

Like the two subsequent films, the film title is presented as “In the Year of Our Lord” and then the respective year. This instantly implies the type of good and evil that will be put on display and “1974″ does not waver from showing the audience evil.

The film begins as a fresh faced journalist (Andrew Garfield) begins to investigate a string of murders. Each victim was a young girl – sexually assaulted and murdered, having swan’s wings sewn into her back for extra symbolism and offense. Garfield’s investigation leads him into an affair with the mother (Rebecca Hall) of one victim and also into the not so loving embrace of corrupt cops. The film then unfolds as his quest to find the serial killer overrides all self-preservation instincts.

Director Julian Jarrold ably drops us into this almost surreal, and certainly terrifying, Yorkshire area via the cast, script, camera work and use of 16mm film stock (the grainy feel mirrors the less than smooth atmosphere on display). There’s almost a claustrophobic quality to the production, as Garfield’s character tries to navigate his way through all of the obstacles in his path. His plight becomes the audience’s, as we are seeing the landscape and social structure of the trilogy being laid out before our eyes.

As with the other films, all of the acting is superb and it was interesting to see Garfield in a role like this, after having seen him play the would-be hero in Terry Gilliam’sThe Imagination of Doctor Parnassus“. Rebecca Hall did a marvelous job of capturing all of the various shades to her character, a woman who is grieving over the brutal loss of her family, ensconced with a local playboy (Sean Bean) and caught up with this well intentioned, though perhaps too head strong reporter. And of course, Sean Bean is Sean Bean (I’m still waiting for a time when I don’t enjoy the slimy quality to his characters).

A bold first step into this world, “1974″ certainly sets the tone for the trilogy and leaves the audience with a sense of uncertainty as to how it will all play out – earning this installment a 4 out of 5. Yes, there are plenty of questions left unanswered and answers that may be in doubt … but that’s the beauty of a trilogy, the story isn’t finished after the first chapter.

Red Riding: 1980

Golden Mug2010 Golden Mug

Best Actor (Paddy Considine)

Director: James Marsh
Cast: Paddy Considine, Maxine Peake, Tony Pitts, Chris Walker, Shaun Dooley, Jim Carter, Warren Clarke, Sean Harris, Steven Robertson, Tony Mooney, Robert Sheehan, Peter Mullan

“1980″ sees the story shift six years from “1974″ (I was always good at math) and our central focus is now on a police officer from Manchester (Paddy Considine), brought in to solve the Yorkshire Ripper case that has remained unsolved (at least as far as the public is concerned). Considine’s character is not well liked in Yorkshire, having been there before investigating a shooting at a local club that smelled of corrupt police work (and ties into “1974″). This sets the stage for what I feel is the best of the three films.

Much of that is due to Considine himself, who is always so present in his roles (“In America”, “My Summer of Love”, “Dead Man’s Shoes”). His character here is not only struggling to grasp at the shifting dynamics and corrupt cops around him but also to keep his marriage together after succumbing to an affair with a fellow officer (Maxine Peake). Considine plays it all beautifully and, like Andrew Garfield but even more ably, he helps the audience have a stake in the events that are unfolding.

It is in this film that we start to see a bit more clearly into the vile and insidious nature of the cops who have decided that they make the rules in the North of England. And reminds us that even for a well respected police officer, brought in to clean up a mess, sometimes it’s more important to have might than right on your side.

Shot in 35mm, there’s a crispness to the film (especially in comparison to the visual aesthetic of “1974″) and director James Marsh did a fantastic job of allowing Grisoni’s script and the talented actors to disseminate so much information within this installment of the series. Whereas “1974″ set the tone and introduced us to many of the characters, “1980″ sets in motion the driving force behind it all and pulls back the conspiracy curtain one more fold.

Maxine Peake’s performance matches that of Considine’s and the pair are able to add an extra dimension to the proceedings hinted at in the script but unrealized without the right actors. A 4 out of 5, “1980″ is basically “The Empire Strikes Back” of the trilogy, only no one loses a hand (not that bloodshed isn’t on the menu here).

Red Riding: 1983

Director: Anand Tucker
Cast: David Morrissey, Mark Addy, Chris Walker, Saskia Reeves, Shaun Dooley, Jim Carter, Warren Clarke, Sean Harris, Steven Robertson, Tony Mooney, Sean Bean, Tony Pitts, Peter Mullan, Beatrice Kelley, Daniel Mays, Robert Sheehan, Andrew Garfield, John Henshaw

The gloves are off in “1983″. As the film shifts in time between 1974 and its title year, we are told of all the players in the Riding’s conspiracy. While some of these jumps in time are a bit unclear until midway through a scene, they are essential for tying all of the events together.

The departure in style varies not only in film stock (going digital this time) or with the director (Anand Tucker) but more importantly with two central perspectives. There’s a lawyer (Mark Addy) who becomes involved in untangling the web of lies that surround one of the murders attributed to the Yorkshire Ripper and we also get an inside look at the corrupt brotherhood of cops via David Morrissey’s character.

Each of these protagonists present interesting character studies and working their way through the pitfalls presented to them (figuratively and literally) is this installment’s best attribute. It’s also in this final chapter that we finally see levity of any kind, with Mark Addy’s character throwing in some very clever lines that are probably the only times you’ll laugh within the entire trilogy’s runtime (though if you expected much laughter in a series of films about corruption, torture and murder, may I suggest professional help).

While all of the actors continue to put in excellent performances, this is where the trilogy loses some steam. Up until this point, the bleak and desperate landscape has matched the attitude and emotions of the characters. In having to tie up most of the loose ends and put a period on the last sentence (though there is a nice bit of open-endedness to the whole production), screenwriter Tony Grisoni must reveal the underlying nature of the whole conspiracy.

There is more than a little bit of a let down once that curtain of mystery has been pulled back. Part of this is the rather obvious and cliché unmasking of the killer that Andrew Garfield’s journalist character had been looking for in “1974″. Another more tangible issue is the directing of Anand Tucker. There was less vibrancy, coherence and sheer grit to this film than the other two. While both Jarrold and Marsh have a more accomplished directing catalog, Tucker’s films include the lackluster “Shopgirl” and “Leap Year“. While the script and cast serve the story well enough, it didn’t all come together in this instance as well as the previous two and the movement between time periods should have been more distinct.

Still, that’s not to say that “1983″ is a bad film – only that if it were not the closing chapter of this accomplished trilogy, I might not necessarily say it was must see material. A 3 out of 5, many of the answers audiences were waiting for from questions posed in the first two films are here, but just as important, there are also some items left to consider afterwards regarding the characters and what goes into comprising bits of our so-called humanity.

Red Riding: The Sobering Conclusion

Putting it all together, what we have is a detailed and fascinating crime trilogy – where not all the players can be categorized as singularly good or evil. By not cramming all four books into one film, the audience is allowed to get a better sense of the characters and how Peace depicts the North of England in this time period.

The phrase “This is the North where we do what we want” is the mantra of corrupt police and local officials. It sets the tone for the brutality (both physical and emotional) that pervades almost every minute of the trilogy. A dark look into the human spirit, the films are a must see for fans of the genre. While I would argue that “1980″ is the most interesting and well made of the three (slight Paddy Considine bias though), you really do need to see all of the films in order to get the full impact and understanding. While you could probably see either of the first two on their own, the third is so tied into the events from the first two that seeing only the final installment will leave you feeling like you just started watching “Lost” this season.

Overall, the trilogy gets a 4 out of 5 and although some may balk at being in a theater for multiple films in a row, this is the best way to delve into the subject material. Just put an away message on your Facebook status, turn off the cell phone and enjoy. It’s rare we get to experience a story being told and presented in such a manner and it’d be a shame to miss out.

4 out of 5