Red Riding: 1974

The Red Riding Trilogy is a trio of films based on the novels of David Peace (The Damned United).  The novels and films are a mix of fact and fiction centered around the disappearances of several young girls and the crimes of the actual Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe, who killed 13 women from 1975-80 while eluding police. (Sutcliffe could, astonishingly, be released from prison two years from now.) The films reverberate significantly with one another, and are not designed to be stand-alone pictures, although the middle one could almost manage as a solo item.  They are gritty explorations of brutal crimes, corrupt institutions, conspiracies, and the like.  The style of the films bring to mind HBO’s The Wire, and David Fincher’s Zodiac because of the presence of unearthly serial killers, their brutal crimes, and extremely complex forensic plots.  The trilogy originally aired in the UK and was quickly picked up by IFC for release in North America.

The first of the trilogy is Red Riding: 1974, directed by Julian Jarrold (Becoming Jane, Brideshead Revisited) begins the saga, and it’s quite a ride.  It centers around rookie journalist Eddie Dunford (Andrew Garfield).  Like the other two films, it takes place in the upper regions of the UK called West Yorkshire.  A gray, foreboding place.  The latest in a string of abductions catches Andrew’s eye.  The horrific details of which are best let to unfold during the film.  Andrew believes the abductions are connected to a series of murders in the not too distant past.  His rogue investigation (both the police and his editor have warned him against pursing his hunches) lead him further and further down the rabbit hole, where he discovers things he never wanted to know.

For this first installment, serious talent was called in.  Garfield, who blew us all away with his debut performance in Boy A is the perfect lead here.  His fellow co-stars include the Mike Leigh favorite, Eddie Marsan as a veteran journalist, and Vicky Cristina Barcelona’s Rebecca Hall, as the mother of one of the abductees.  The entire casts performs uniformly excellent.

The plot is as complicated and intriquate as anything recently released, rivaling last year’s Gomorrah.  Some of the heaviest UK accents around add to the difficulty of following what’s happened.  Yes, it takes a little work to stick to this gritty story (filming in 16mm added to this effect greatly), but it’s worth it.  1974 doesn’t skimp on the gritty brutality of it all either.  It isn’t for the light of heart, that’s for sure.  But in this dark world, there’s a haunting beauty that will entice you, like its characters, to lose yourself in it.  You’ll be happy to do just that.

Jarrold, who’s most recent films lacked quite a bit of focus, seemed to find his stride here.  He maneuvers the intimidating script (adapted by Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas‘s Tony Grisoni) with a confidence we haven’t seen from him since Kinky Boots. Some of the greatest scenes had a Scorsese-esque feel about them, down to the jaw-dropping ending that will remind more than just a few of Taxi Driver.  Once you’ve braced yourself, this is definitely worth checking out as soon as possible.

★★★½

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