Buoyed by very strong performances and a deliberate, grim style, the first installment in the acclaimed Red Riding Trilogy, Red Riding 1974 sets the tone for the movies to come and makes clear that these are not sunny days for the faint of heart. These are gloomy times; films not merely about the seedy underbelly of society but the fact that the seedy underbelly keeps things moving. They have been compared to Zodiac but they are more realistically grim than David Fincher’s masterpiece. The film can be a bit too self-serious at times, director Julian Jarrold (Brideshead Revisited) would have been wise to focus on the procedural a bit more than the lead's dream sequences or moments of reflection, and the film's television roots show on a production level, but Red Riding 1974 is a well-made, expertly performed mystery with the added bonus that there are two more films to watch when this one's over.
The Red Riding films are based on four books by David Peace known as the "Red Riding Quartet." Each film details a series of murders set against a backdrop of increasing political and official corruption. The three films – Red Riding 1974, Red Riding 1980, and Red Riding 1983 – aired on Channel 4 in March of 2009 and are now being released theatrically (playing at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago starting Friday, March 12, 2010 and at the Detroit Film Theatre beginning Friday, March 19, 2010).
Some of the television production values hinder the piece a bit – lots of close ups, sparse locations, a TV-esque score – and I wonder if the trilogy won't have more power on DVD, but the A-list cast make it easier to overlook the B-list production. As for the story, Red Riding 1974 drags a bit and the final act gets a bit too melodramatic for Garfield's current skill set but there's a lot to like about Jarrold's style and the tone set by this opening chapter. It's unlikely that anyone up for a trilogy of this length in the theaters will be turned off enough by the first film not to move on to the second. Red Riding 1974 starts with an optimistic young reporter and ends with the viewer feeling anxious and even downtrodden about not only where the trilogy might go from here but the darkness of humanity it will expose.
Rating: THREE BONES
Reviewed by Brian Tallerico (MovieRetriever.com Film Critic)
Release Date: March 12th, 2010 (in Chicago; the film is already playing in New York and LA and expanding around the country over the next few weeks)
Starring: Andrew Garfield, David Morrissey, John Henshaw, Anthon Flanagan, Rebecca Hall, Sean Bean, and Eddie Marsan
Director: Julian Jarrold
Writer: Tony Grisoni