Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Red Riding: 1980

Within the Red Riding trilogy, James Marsh’s 1980 (trailer here) could be considered the Empire Strikes Back. Not only is it the darkest film of the series, it also happens to be the best installment and would still be considered a superior motion picture had it been released independently of the Red Riding project.

The Yorkshire Police always get their man, usually by beating out a confession. Sadly though, when real investigatory work is required, it seems they are a bit out of their league. After six years of unabated murders, the so-called Yorkshire Ripper is still at large, taunting the police with apparent impunity. Out of patience, the Home Office dispatches Manchester Assistant Chief Constable Peter Hunter to investigate the investigation.

Hunter knows he is walking into a lion’s den. He briefly ran an internal inquiry into the bloody events that concluded Red Riding: 1974, until personal problems forced his premature departure. He knows there will not be a lot of love waiting for him in Yorkshire. Facing open hostility from the Yorkshire force, Hunter only trusts John Nolan and Helen Marshall, the two detectives he brought from Manchester. Unfortunately, the honest cop might be undone by his own secrets.

In Red Riding’s standout performance, Paddy Considine is an achingly earnest but highly flawed everyman, endowing Hunter with a quality of classical tragedy. Likewise, Marsh, best known for helming the remarkable documentary Man on Wire, proves without question to be the director best attuned to the noir material. His gritty, unsentimental approach is reminiscent of the jaundiced films of the 1970’s, clearly connecting public corruption and private vice, without overselling the point (as the other two films sometimes do). He also shows a deft touch with the thriller elements, never really telegraphing the film’s big haymaker of a final twist.

1980 might be a grimly pessimistic view of humanity, but it is richly satisfying as cinema. Tautly constructed with some riveting screen performances, it is a great crime drama. It is also stands alone just about as well as the 1974, so if you only see one film in the trilogy, it should be Marsh’s 1980. It opens in New York as part of IFC’s special Roadshow presentation of all three films for one week this Friday (2/5), and will screen separately the following week.