Movie Review: Red Riding Trilogy- A Haunting and Successfully Epic Piece of Neo-Noir Cinema

As the opening shot of the 305-minute long film Red Riding opens up there is an incredibly resonant and haunting image of a dead 10 year old girl with angel wings stitched to the back of her. Thus begins the neo-noir mystery thriller linking three men’s desperate journeys for the truth and the uncovering of corruption adapted from a series of books written by David Peace. This dramatized vision of the actual child kidnappings and Yorkshire ripper cases is not meant to be a historically accurate tale of the events but rather a methodical and artistic demonstration of bringing the noir back to the cinema. Red Riding is split into three parts surveying three separate years and three separate characters and is linked marvelously and seamlessly as a contemplation on the weaknesses of men and how they are aided and abided by other evil actions or as Edmund Burke would put it, “allowing evil to triumph because good men do nothing.” Adapted to the screen by screenwriter Tony Grisoni, who took on the almost impossible task of adapting Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas back in 1998, makes this long piece of noir haunting and unforgettable with the help of three talented directors Julian Jarrold (Brideshead Revisited), James Marsh (Man on Wire), and Anand Tucker (And When Did You Last See Your Father?). This film is not meant for the impatient or the weak of stomach but definitely provides a riveting display of acting, visuals, and a potent story with intent and message that is unlike any other attempt at the noir genre in the past twenty years.

The mystery is the most important element to the noir and Red Riding keeps you in the dark most of the time due to its complex storyline that has many key players. Opening up in the year of our lord 1974 our protagonist is a journalist trying to link together his theory on three missing girls where the most recent has been found dead in a construction ditch after being tortured, raped, and strangled. Basically the first segment of Red Riding is what David Fincher’s Zodiac should have been as the young ambitious journalist, played by the young charismatic Andrew Garfield, who becomes dangerously involved in the unveiling of corruption. As the film moves into 1980 we are introduced to our new man of truth who is an internal investigator played by the always remarkable Paddy Considine who was hired originally in 1974 to investigate the Yorkshire police and has been brought back again to re-examine a serial killer case that is no where close to being solved. Eventually the path leads to visiting the players involved in what we believe to be the child kidnappings and how they relate to one of the serial killers murders since the details don’t add up to being a part of the killers signature. The last and final stretch of the mystery already has some answers as to who might be behind the entire framework of mystery but seeks to add a layer of redemption on the part of one of the police officers involved. All of this is happening as a lawyer, played by The Full Monty’s Mark Addey, is hired to work an appeal for a framed boy who was forced to sign a confession that he kidnapped and killed the young girl back in 1974. Helping his case is the fact that another 10 year old girl has been kidnapped in 1983 and is similar to the case of 1974. All of this unfolds in a masterful display of character weaknesses, realizations, and development that is unmatched in modern cinema. Mixing the darkened realism of Johnathan Demme’s Silence of the Lambs and the psychological complexity of Fritz Lang’s M, Red Riding is a remarkable and epic accomplishment of storytelling in all of its forms.

Exploring the depths of man’s faults and how evil begets evil is one of the haunting elements that Red Riding takes advantage of. One journalist who fears for his life states, “the devil wins when good men do not,” and the film is an epic display of how all the right elements of money, power, and sin can perpetuate further evil and allow for others to tolerate impure actions if they have something coming to them. The characters complexities compliment the stories intricacies making for an incredible story to experience let alone an uncomfortable and unsettling magnifying glass into the horrifying actions of man. All of the compromises, the back door dealings, the corruption, and the tempting of power unfold in a dazzling display of storytelling and has more to say about the weakness of human nature than most films have to say anything at all in their entertainment ventures. Red Riding works on many levels mostly as an allegory to making deals with the devil but in its visual style accentuates a deep knowledge of the classic 40s noir tone and updates it for a modern experience that is mesmerizing to watch and unsettling to experience. But in its beautiful cinematography and tight direction Red Riding stands already as a defining moment for the next generation to make artistic and epic cinema that have a point to make and a message to pass on through its visual depictions and story progression.

Each segment cannot stand alone because it is meant to be experienced in all three sittings, which is not an easy task. However, there are so many cinematic strengths that can carry any filmgoer through the dark and gritty atmosphere that is created for the 70s and early 80s Yorkshire. The complex script with all of its fractured elements will have anyone desiring a mystery completely engaged in how everything unfolds and might have a good time trying to figure out who exactly is committing these atrocities. Acting wise there is much to be admired since all of the protagonists and side characters, including David Morrissey, Sean Bean, and Rebecca Hall, are immersed into these multi-faceted characters that provide the believable framework for this intricate story. There is yet to be a film this year that rivals the pure cinematic quality of the visuals throughout Red Riding and the tone, message, and feeling is completely consistent throughout the three segments that one might think that one director was at the helm of this epic piece of cinema. Red Riding is pure artistic filmmaking that engages the audience through all of the technical and emotional elements, manipulating the more sensitive emotions including our comfort levels, which makes for a difficult film journey but also one of the most memorable in recent years.

If you are an impatient individual or can’t stand the dark subject matter of a film about kidnapping 10 year old girls or a serial killer that targets women than perhaps you should skip this movie altogether. But Red Riding ventures into this uncomfortable territory and reflects an ignored aspect of the darkness in the human heart, which is a dramatized and fictional account of actual events. David Peace’s books are an incredibly riveting and detailed account of the events of the decade that embodies the state of fear and Tony Grisoni’s adaptation was masterfully done and provided an extensive and guided framework for the film to be built upon. This 5 plus hour film is an accomplishment in and of itself and is a film unlike any other either in content, message, and delivery. The talents of all three directors came together to make a consistent and methodical piece on the darkness of human nature and should be applauded for its epic intentions and successful completion.

Grade: A

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