Opens Fri., March 12
Though the producers of the Red Riding Trilogy were forced by budgetary limitations to only adapt three of the four North England-based crime novels by David Peace, that still leaves plenty of material: Three films spread over some 300 minutes, each with its own director, protagonist and format (16mm, 35mm and video) share three dozen characters and roughly 3,000 pounds of dread. Still, when it finally ends, surely it isn’t too churlish to ask: Is that all?
Each named for the years in which they unfold— 1974 , 1980 and 1983 —the series operates as the opposite of nostalgia, dreaming up a Yorkshire not too far from how Orwell perceived it would be in 1984. Presented in grimy 16mm, 1974 opens with the discovery of one of a wave of missing girls, her corpse raped, strangled and fixed with stitched-on swan wings. A young reporter (Andrew Garfield) decides to play detective, only to have his fresh face routinely bludgeoned by a crooked police force that may be hiding a wider conspiracy. Cut to cinemascope 1980 and a noble detective (Paddy Considine), while snooping into the real-life case of the Yorkshire Ripper, unwittingly delves deeper into the affair. The mantle is taken up again in 1983 by a solicitor (Mark Addy) battling insecurity and vocational impotence to blow this whole thing wide open, while one of the crooked conspirators (David Morrissey) suffers a slightly tardy crisis of conscience.
Despite the three-way fracture, the differences between films remains mostly superficial. The directors—respectively, Julian Jarrold ( Brideshead Revisited ), James Marsh ( Man on Wire ) and Anand Tucker ( Leap Year )—aren’t visionaries but subservient to the overall vision sketched by solitary screenwriter Tony Grisoni, who renders the labyrinthine convolutions of Peace’s novels more coherent than they probably should be. What’s missing is a grander, more haunting theme. Originally airing on British TV, Red Riding aims to be television and cinema at once— The Wire meets Zodiac . But The Wire slowly revealed corruption in every facet of its city, while Red Riding never gets past a small, localized conspiracy. And where Zodiac revealed the impossibility of ultimate truth, Red Riding assures us the truth can be obtained, at least after the corrupt have been neatly felled. Ending on a curiously optimistic note for something that tracks two serial killer cases, the series winds up feeling smaller than the size of its many parts.
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