Saturday, March 26, 2011

'Red Riding' is a moody mystery

Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1974 (2009)
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Rebecca Hall, Anthony Flanagan, Sean Bean, David Morrissey, and John Henshaw
Director: Julian Jarrold
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

A rookie crime beat reporter (Garfield) tries to discover the identity of a serial killer preying on little girls in Yorkshire, but in the process runs headlong into a dangerous and far-reaching conspiracy involving corrupt police officers, a ruthless real estate developer (Bean), and perhaps even the mother of one of the victims (Hall).

Rarely have so many great performances been featured in a film so intense and stylish added up to so little. By the time the 100 minutes of "Red Riding" have run their course, you'll have witnessed one of film history's most incompetent journalist-detectives blunder his way through a twisted maze of perversion and corruption, solve the case, kinda-sorta see justice done... and you'll find yourself wondering, "Is that it?"

Given that this is the first part in a three-part series based on a true story of a serial killer that terrorized Yorkshire in the 1970s and 1980s--and some conspiracy theorists hold that the killer may still be at large.

Based on this movie, one can easily buy into that conspiracy as the Yorkshire in "Red Riding" makes Chicago look like Mayberry by comparison. Everyone with the smallest scrap of power is tied to a corrupt political machine, and anyone who tries to challenge that machine ends up discredited or dead. In the end, it's a somewhat depressing movie, because the over-arcing message is that "evil always wins".

Part of why evil wins in this film is because good is so damn stupid. The erstwhile hero of the film is both cowardly and lazy, which makes him a very realistic character but it also makes for frustrating viewing. He makes the wrong choice at every single opportunity and ultimately becomes part of the very cover-up he is trying to unravel. Although it's probably a good thing for the series of movies that he--if not for the real-life victims of the Yorkshire Ripper--because the corrupt cops and politicians and business people in this film aren't much smarter. With the way they carry on in this film, and the messes they leave behind, their goose would have been cooked long before whatever ultimate solution will be offered to the central mystery of this film in the third film, "Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1983". Unless, of course, Yorkshire really does make Chicago look like Mayberry by comparison.

While you may feel a little frustration at the stupidity of the reporter hero of this film, it is worth watching for the great acting. Sean Bean in particular puts on a good show as a menacing real estate tycoon who may or may not entertain himself on the weekends by kidnapping and murdering little girls and sewing swan wings on their backs.

At the very least, the film serves as a nice stage-setting for the next chapter in the series, which I will be watching and reviewing shortly.

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