Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1980. (2010) James Marsh

What I felt lacking in 1974 was nearly perfectly resolved in 1980. The trilogy is starting to only look right when seen as one unified story. Watching only one of the films will lead to disappointment -- they're meant to be seen as one, in order to be seen right. As I progress to the final film, I'm finding the best descriptor to be "Inceptionesque," except that when you go back through the Red Riding labyrnthian mind-benders you find they're actually better than last summer's blockbuster. All the pieces here fit and form a puzzle, not a million little pieces left on the floor.

I call it "near perfect" resolution only because we still don't have a clear idea of who 1974's child killer was, or the why behind the brutal slayings. Also, 1974 still unravels from a femme fatale relationship that is beyond reasonable belief; it's an over the top layer that seemed out of step with the rest of the story. But so many unanswered questions in that film, many of which would have been left behind in lesser productions, become plot points in 1980, resolving tension from both films in the most satisfying of ways.

As I had to explain the words "near perfect," I feel I now must qualify the word "satisfying." There's really nothing satisfying about the resolution other than story choices which bring clear and concise closure to events we'd thought long forgotten. Now that we're actually aware of who the bad guys are, it's rather squeamish to view the final scenes. "Satisfying" fits in a film way, but in a human way? No. But that's somewhat the point. We're not watching film noir, but in many ways it feels like it. In this world, corruption and darkness lurk around every corner -- even next to a police station in broad daylight.

Whereas in 1974 we followed young and cocky journalist Eddie Dunford, who appeared truly caring in tracking down the killer for his paper, 1980 gives us Paddy Considine as Peter Hunter, the upstanding cop who also has unanswered questions from the first film's closing shootout. Frustrations with an investigation finding nothing after thirteen murders, and Hunter's known integrity and fearlessness in pursuing justice land him a job on a special task force, what the press calls a "super squad," appointed to apprehend the killer and solve this mysterious case once and for all. Like Dunford before him, Hunter is over his head before he even knows it. What he begins to solve is a mystery, indeed -- but not the one he was jobbed out for.

Police corruption once again takes priority. The Yorkshire Ripper will certainly be caught, but he once again takes second fiddle when Hunter starts digging in the files. I wouldn't call the serial killers MacGuffins, it's just that these are extremely large stories and Red Riding chooses to prioritize the story within the story.

Two or three things became immediately apparent only a few seconds into 1980:

1. The look of 1980's 35mm shreds 1974's 16mm, which was obvious from the first frame. There's a cinematic quality here that leaps the production up quite a few notches.

2. We now understand that there's more than one murder mystery. In fact, there are at the very least three.

3. Sometimes one simply prefers one directorial or cinematographic style over another, and it can make all the difference in the subject matter and one's experience in dealing with tough material. Like watching Hannibal Lecter, or Se7en, there's nothing easy about this subject matter. Frankly speaking, some of it is sick and goes back to our Old Testament fascination with the strange side of humanity most of us only relate to through story. That we're grappling with an issue that's been around since Cain and Abel makes it no less easy to watch, and stories like this are going to make certain that the horror of it stays with us for a while. But personally I can say that it was easier to take with James Marsh at the helm. It's probably that he simply knows how to add filmic pizazz without it necessarily being noticeable. There are also moments of reprieve that weren't present in 1974, moments when we get a breather from the ickiness.

At the end of 1974 I was left wondering whether this was going to be a worthwhile endeavor. At the end of 1980 I'm left dazed, spellbound. I cannot wait for 1983.

But I also found myself wondering why four novels were reduced to three films. What happened to 1977? I remembered a Film Comment article from nearly six months ago in which Graham Fuller gave an answer and introduced a festering sore:

Tony Grisoni adapted 1974 from the first novel in David Peace's "Red Riding Quartet," named for a Grimm's fairytale, the color of blood, and the West Riding district of Yorkshire. He also adapted 1977, which wasn't filmed; 1980, which was directed by James Marsh; and 1983, directed by Anand Tucker. The absence of 1977 doesn't dilute the overall intensity, but producer Andrew Eaton still hopes to greenlight it once Ridley Scott has completed his American Feature adaptation of the entire quartet. It's been mooted that Scott's film will be set in a run-down industrial state such as Pennsylvania, but whether the screenwriter, Steve Zaillian, will feel obliged to replicate the fierce regionalism of Peace's novels, as did Grisoni, is another matter.
I don't know how I feel about 1977 being created later than the rest of the trilogy, but -- Ridley Scott? A feature length film? "Such as Pennsylvania"? Are you friggin' kidding me? No serious film lover would think it possible to pull off all this material in one film, and no one that's seen Red Riding would think the maker of Robin Hood and Kingdom of Heaven would be the guy to entrust it to. This is silly. It'd be like someone reducing The Godfather Parts I and II to a ten minute short for the festival circuit. I suppose it can be done, but it's like adding sequels to The Matrix. It leaves a stain on the legacy of the original.


  1. Yeah, as soon as I heard about the Ridley Scott adaptation, I groaned. And I haven't even seen any of the RED RIDING films yet.

    There is still hope, though. Scott seems preoccupied with his ALIEN prequel, and so his RED RIDING film isn't going to be happening in the immediate future, which means there's a good chance it won't happen. Only 10% of the projects Scott ends up attached to actually come to fruition.

  2. I think when looking up stuff for this post I saw two Alien prequels. Yes, this is what the world needs more of, right?

    I do look forward to your reaction on the Red Riding Trilogy. We always have different takes except for strong, standout films. I wonder if this one is strong and standout enough. I also wonder whether you'll dislike it for its dark edge. Should be fun to follow.

  3. "I think when looking up stuff for this post I saw two Alien prequels. Yes, this is what the world needs more of, right?"

    I'm interested in the first of the two (and, honestly, I suspect Scott will try to produce the second, rather than direct). Scott's comments, especially his most recent ones, suggest that this ALIEN 0 is going to be a different cup o' tea than what the franchise has given us so far; heck, the iconic "alien" ain't even in it. And it's not like Scott's such a great director; I'd rather see the bold, striking projects go to better directors.

    "I also wonder whether you'll dislike it for its dark edge."

    OLDBOY is one of my favorite films, so probably not. I can handle dark.

  4. Oldboy also hails from another foreign trilogy that is excellent -- the Vengeance trilogy. I don't remember if you were around last year when I watched all three at once, but it was loads of fun for me.


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