Thursday, September 23, 2010

Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1980 (2010) – Review

Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1980 (from now on being referred to as Red Riding: 1980) is the second part of the Red Riding Trilogy (see part 1’s review). Red Riding: 1980 continues the corruption motif from part one, but overall is a drastically different film, stylistically, tonally and structurally, which is beneficial to it as it has its own identity. It is a much more a straightforward detective style mystery – the plot to uncover the mystery drives the story, and not so much the emotional journey of the characters. Corruption in the first is an abstract force that consumes and ultimately destroys Edward. Here, corruption is a much more literal concept. It is clear that the Yorkshire police department is corrupt (as we have seen the first part) and that something is not right with the case that Peter Hunt is being brought in to solve, not to mention that he has bad history with the police department and is convinced that they were hiding something. Unlike Edward, Peter is not an innocent in the world. He tries so hard to expose the truth, but he is having an affair and is distant from his wife emotionally – truths that he cannot come to terms with internally. If the first was about the corruption of the innocent, then this film is about corruption as a fact of life. Seemingly ever character his damaged in the film. There is no salvation apparent here (though, I get the sense that the third will be about salvation). As much as Peter wants to expose the truth, there seems to be a naivety to him, which is ultimately his downfall. Clearly, everything is grey in the world of the film, but Peter tries to see it as black and white. Director James Marsh does an excellent job visually exploring the slow realization that Peter has that he in fact is not the shining white knight in to save the day. The narrative is structured as a detective mystery – the detective (and team) find clues, uncover the mystery and solve the case by the end. And as such, the plot compels the story forward, not the characters. While the characters do have emotional journeys, they are complimentary and serve the plot (for the most part), and thus are not the focus. The downside of this is that none of the characters are fully fleshed out. Thus, the audience does not have a full emotional connection to them and are therefore not themselves emotionally engaged in the journey and outcome for the characters. Rather, they are engaged by the story – to see how it turns out. There is nothing wrong with this, but emotional connection has a deeper lasting effect on the viewer, and truly caring about the outcome of the characters leads to a more fulfilling experience than just wanting to see what happens next. And this is really the only issue, but an important one holding it back from being a great film. The mystery itself is engaging and interesting, but the lack of true connection with the main character, especially, leaves the film feeling satisfying from a story standpoint just not completely fulfilling. Red Riding: 1980 has everything a good mystery film should, but is just missing a deeper layer of emotional connection.

Technical achievements: James Marsh working with director of photography Igor Martinovic (again) made a very interestingly shot film. On the outside it appears fairly straightforward, but scenes like Peter Hunt’s visit to the mining town (It is such a striking scene and one of the most interesting on the year), Marsh’s use of visual narrative clues and his camera placement denoting power in scenes beget a compelling aesthetic composition. Tom Burton’s production design, along with the cinematography, is no nearly as bleak and gloomy as part 1, but it still casts a dark cloud over the film. The color yellow is used as an interesting contrast in Peter Hunt’s hotel room (I am not sure what it means, but it is quite noticeable). Dickson Hinchliffe’s score is very fitting to the detective mystery style of the film. The film being more plot than character driven left lead Paddy Considine with more of a going from point A to B to C to solve the mystery type of role, rather than one with a lot of emotional heavy lifting, but there were a few scenes in which he did have to portray the failures in his character’s life and he did so well. Maxine Peake’s character is a bit of a mystery, in that the viewer is never sure what she is fully up to or about; though certainly has some internal trauma. She, like Considine, is good in her role, as is the cast overall. However, it is Sean Harris that has the most interesting character and gives the scene stealing performance of the film. He is fabulous, hiding true evil behind a mask of blunt incapacity that almost plays as innocence (though we already know him from the first), cracking at times revealing glimpses of complete hate. Like the first part, Red Riding: 1980 is a very well made and aesthetically engaging film.

Red Riding: 1980 is a simple detective mystery on the surface, with a little Hitchcock MacGuffin thrown in for good measure, but underneath it is another fine study of human corruption continuing the series. 7/10

Available on Blu-ray and DVD on or watch it now streaming on

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