Thursday, September 16, 2010

Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1974 (2010) – Review

Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1974 (from now on being referred to as Red Riding: 1974) is the first in the Red Riding Trilogy (based on the book by David Peace). The film is dark, cryptic and unflinching – yet beautifully shot, directed and acted. Director Julian Jarrold’s narrative does not seem reliable throughout, as it jumps around in time, between dream, perception and reality. The viewer is not quite sure what they are seeing. But by the end of the film, everything comes together and the journey feels satisfying – albeit emotionally draining. The film is structured as a mystery following an investigator, Eddie Dunford, as he looks into the disappearance of a young girl, but this is only the surface of the narrative. It delves deep into the emotions of persecution, love, anguish – human tragedy in different forms is always at the core. Devastatingly bleak and violent imagery is juxtaposed to rays of light breaking through gloomy clouds. This is a motif that Jarrold uses many times in the film, and it is quite striking and beautiful. As if, this one reporter, trying to uncover the truth, even at the highest cost, delivers humanity from the corruption that plagues it – the devil triumphs when good men do nowt. The transformation of Eddie is profound – is it love and loss that compels him, or is it finding the truth – probably a bit of both. He is a character defined by love and loss, but thought of by his friend as a good person. Naivety, ambition and inexperience may have led him to his journey, but these petty characteristics fade as deeper emotions take hold.  As a viewer, Eddie does not make decisions that we understand or would replicate – and what does that say about us. When façade is stripped away, all we have left is base instinct dictated not by social laws but by internal (call it spiritual or core) moral personal laws that bind us to do what we must, and for Eddie, above all else, the truth will out – at any cost. And this, like the depravity juxtaposed to beams of light erupting from dark clouds, is cut against seemingly absolute corruption. While Eddie does what he believes to be his highest moral calling, when all other avenues are closed, society and those set in place to govern and protect us reject truth utterly. Jarrold’s film looks at evil in society as almost the crushing and overwhelming norm; something that cannot be overcome and thus excepted for what it is, and while serial murderers may seem out of the norm to us, does police and government corruption?  Why is it that those that strive to be good and fight the evil that surrounds them find that they are not championed by society, rather they are wilted and restrained. The film starts and ends in seemingly the same place, society unaffected, unmoved – but good striking out does not go unnoticed on a more personal and specific level. Slowly others take notice. And as this is only the first film in the trilogy – good has taken a foothold, evil not as steady as it was – and much like the light punching through, this story of struggle shows that while we cannot eradicate evil in one fell swoop, evil can be defeated slowly step by step. And once in motion, truth will come to light. Red Riding: 1974 is visually uncompromising, both in its beauty and in its gritty and stark look at the corruption of humanity.

On to the technical achievements: Julian Jarrold has made his best directorial effort with this film – his use of the camera is profound, focusing the attention of the viewer on very specific elements, both visually and thematically. He pulls focus on the foreground and background, fixates on emotional visual clues rather than just straightforward convergence on the characters’ faces. He wants to tell the narrative in a precise manner, only giving visuals that will forward the journey that he wants the viewer to take, both from a story and emotional standpoint. Chief in his success is the astounding work of cinematographer Rob Hardy, whose other work is not well known or seen, especially for those outside the UK (I hope that this film gets him lots of work on good projects in the future, because he is clearly a rare and gifted talent). Their collaboration is along the same vein as French director Jacques Audiard and his cinematographer Stephane Fontaine stylistically. Production designer Cristina Casali and composer Adrian Johnston both do very good work on the film, capturing the world and atmosphere of the film. Red Riding: 1974 also serves as a breakout/take notice film for actor Andrew Garfield, who is brilliant. His work carries a seemingly convoluted narrative, anchoring it and giving it a moral core. The film is designed to center around his performance, and he does not let it down. Sean Bean and Rebecca Hall are also standouts among a cast that is good across the board. This is a film that tackles a difficult subject and comes at it through a complicated narrative structure, yet the quality of all those involved see it succeed in being a very aesthetically interesting and emotional provocative film.

Red Riding: 1974 sets the bar high for the rest of the series, as it is a visually remarkable and intensely engaging work. 8/10

The series is available on Blu-ray and DVD at and currently streaming on Netflix.

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