Critic Roger Ebert describes the world on display in Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1974 as an immersive experience, and I can’t disagree with that assessment. But this is not the England filmgoers have grown accustomed to seeing. There are no by-the-rules Scotland Yard inspectors, no Sherlock Holmes, no Jane Tennison. There is nothing “feel good” in this crime drama, period.
Director Julian Jarrold, in this first installment of a televised trilogy based on novels by David Peace, has expertly crafted a noir that depicts 1970s Yorkshire (in northern England) as a place of unrelenting evil and despair. This hopeless atmosphere, punctuated by acts of violence, is the movie’s strength. But I also think it’s a weakness.
The protagonist of the film is young Eddie Dunford (Andrew Garfield), a hotshot reporter who is arrogant and mouthy, but also a bit naïve. When Eddie investigates a string of serial killings targeting young girls, he stumbles upon a web of corruption among city officials and businessmen. He also falls in love with the attractive mother of one of the murdered girls.
My problem with Red Riding: 1974 was my sense of detachment. The character of Eddie, as written, is no doubt realistic, but it’s difficult to empathize with him. The kid is a jerk, and no matter what horrors he uncovers, I don’t particularly care about his fate. His romance with the mysterious Paula (Rebecca Hall) is abrupt and uninvolving, and he seems to have no other social life. In a narrative this downbeat, and which offers no comic relief, it should be a requirement that viewers be given some character – any character – with whom they can relate.
What results is a film I admired, but didn’t much like. As Ebert observed, Red Riding: 1974 is a directorial triumph, a dark and bleak world successfully recreated. But this fairy tale was too grim for my taste. Grade: B-
Director: Julian Jarrold Cast: Andrew Garfield, David Morrissey, Sean Bean, Rebecca Hall, John Henshaw, Anthony Flanagan Release: 2009
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