Red Riding Trilogy (2009) dir. Julian Jarrold, James Marsh, Anand Tucker
Starring: Andrew Garfield, David Morrissey, Paddy Considine, Warren Clarke, Rebecca Hall, Sean Bean, Mark Addy, Peter Mullan, Eddie Marsan
By Alan Bacchus
David Peace’s novels The Red Riding Quartet published between 1999 and 2002 looks to be Britain’s equivalent to the Millennium trilogy. Police corruption, sicko psychopathic serial killer stuff, dead children, period UK politics all contribute to three robust investigative thrillers in which the whole adds up to be greater than the sum of its parts.
The series, originally made for UK Television by Andrew Eaton's (and Michael Winterbottom’s) Revolution Films, saw a brief US theatrical run before arriving this week on DVD. Each film is shot by a different director, and set in three different time periods 1974 (dir. Julian ‘Becoming Jane’ Jarrold), 1980 (dir. James ‘Man on Wire’ Marsh) and 1983 (dir. Anand ‘Girl with the Pearl Earring’ Tucker). The common creative thread other than the producer is writer Tony Grisoni, a seasoned screenwriter known for his collaborations with Terry Gilliam. No surrealism here though, it’s a straight forward procedural set around the real life Yorkshire Ripper case, a noirish Chinatown feel under the modern serial killer genre.
The series opens in 1974, with a young journalist (Andrew Garfield) from ‘The South’ (that is, the affluent upper class London) coming back North to Yorkshire to do an investigative piece on a particularly grisly series of murders involving young kids found murdered with swan wings stitched to their backs. Ick. What starts out as a simple case unfolds revealing more sinister elements that connects to a wide network of corruption involving the Yorkshire Police and a local nefarious businessman.
Garfield, who will become much more famous after he dons his new Spider Man suit, does his Jake Gittes performance, engaging in an illicit steamy relationship with a damaged victim, Rebecca Hall who is the Faye Dunaway character. Garfield’s character, like Gittes, is a glutton for punishment, as the deeper he gets into the case the more beatings he takes. Throughout the picture, his hands, face and arms get smashed in, and his balls crushed twice. There’s also no less than three love scenes with Hall.
The three filmmakers seem have to been encouraged to have their own look and style applied to each picture. And in the case of 1974, director Jarrold's forced 70's look unfortunately becomes the biggest crutch on that film, employing a yellowish/brown filter look, difusing the contrast perhaps to enhance the feeling of other movies of that era but which unnecessarily distracts us from the film.
The second chapter is the best. James Marsh, who won an Oscar for the documentary Man on Wire, employs a more realistic visual approach. His doc skills show up in the opening which features intelligent use of stock footage to set the scene and tone for the six year jump from the first film. Paddy Considine turns in a better lead performance as well. He’s an internal affairs cop from the South sent up north to investigate a series of grisly rape/murders of local women. His sad eyes and honest facial features renders the even greater tragedy which befalls him with more resonance than the 1974 chapter.
The third episode features a lawyer (Mark Addy) once again going back into the case of the first film, and retracing the trail of corruption and deceit from the baddies who have been pulling the strings all these years. Tucker’s anamorphic cinematography, full of JJ Abrams lens flares, is the most cinematic of the bunch. It works to heighten the scope of the series and give the audience a bigger cinematic bang to the story.
All three Red Riding films combined manages to capture the best qualities of both the film and television mediums - the depth of character and situation which long form serialized television can bring forth, and the spectacle of the feature film medium. The trilogy leans more toward television though and thus, at the end of the entire venture we never feel truly moved by the machinations of Peace’s characters over this long period of time.
That said Grisoni does a fantastic job of laying ground work of plot, character and other details for the other films early on. When films 2 and 3 doubles back on itself to link up the actions of characters seen from different points of view, I found myself nodding in appreciation and wanting more.
Each separate film leaves us both with enough closure for it to become its own story and with the door open teasing us for what’s to come. The final resolution in Tucker's film however fails to elevate the series to another level of great storytelling and thus doesn’t quite fully satisfy our whetted appetite. Without spoiling anything, the A Plot of the murders is closed off but the political/economic angle B plot is left hanging. And not with an effectively open-ended tease, but a feeling that the writer just forgot about that angle of the story. It's a shame because the potential was in the filmmakers' grasp.
I can’t fully compare Red Riding to the Millenium Trilogy, having only seen parts one and two of the Swedish series. But I can tell already, the Larsson stories have a different kind of perversity. Both series feature ghastly crimes, but somehow the grisliness of Larsson’s saga are so sensationalized it produces an echo of cinematic fun not present (and missed) in Peace’s story. Regardless, it’s an ambitious effort on the part of these Brits which succeeds enough and thus deserves to be discovered on DVDs by television and true crime aficionados.
'The Red Riding Trilogy' is available on DVD from Alliance Films in Canada