Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1974 (2010)

25 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1974” is the first in a trilogy of British TV films, later released theatrically. But even most of it is setup material for the second and third entries, it can be taken as a stand-alone. Whether or not this will stand above the rest remains to be seen, as I haven’t yet seen the other films. But this is an effective first entry that works well on its own, but does have me interested in seeing the later entries.

“Red Riding: 1974” is a mystery fable, set apparently in 1974 (as the title suggests, though it could have taken place anytime, I guess). Its hero is a young reporter named Eddie Dunford (Andrew Garfield) based in the dark little town of Fitzwilliam, West Yorkshire. Eddie is given the task to report on the mysterious child killings. The police aren’t making much progress, though they say they’re working on the case. Eddie doesn’t particularly care much for the story, as he’s somewhat of a slacker. But there are two things that keep him interested—the romantic relationship he winds up sharing with Paula Garfield (Rebecca Hall), the mother of one of the dead girls; and the death of his friend Barry Gannon (Anthony Flanagan) who has stumbled upon something that could or could not related to this case. As Eddie digs deeper into the case, he runs afoul of certain characteristics with policemen and rich businessmen, particularly land developer John Dawson (Sean Bean) whom Eddie suspects of the murders.

“Red Riding: 1974” is more than a serial killer mystery. Without giving too much away, we can tell from the final act of “Red Riding: 1974” that this is a brutal tale of power and corruption, mainly involving police. And the later entries will no doubt dig further into that. Police corruption isn’t new in movies (or in life, for that matter), but the approach that’s given in this movie is so unbending and careless that it’s kind of sick, and yet effective at the same time. There’s a torture scene near the end of the film that’s especially fierce that is followed by a very tense moment involving two police officers taking joy in practically scaring the hero to death. And the hero learns the hard way that only one thing matters in this sick little world that he didn’t make—power.

This could have been great. It has a neat look—it was shot on 16 mm film and has chosen a suitably bleak town for its location. The acting is very good—particularly by Sean Bean and Rebecca Hall, while Andrew Garfield is merely OK. (He doesn’t make the strongest impression as the leading man.) The way the story develops into this heavy corruption tale is nicely-handled. The ending is uncompromising and memorable.

But if I have to criticize, I’ll say that the story isn’t precisely clear and there are some moments where I’m wondering how exactly we got to a certain spot. Maybe after another viewing of “Red Riding: 1974,” I’ll be able to understand it better and give it a more positive review. As it is the first time around, it is an effective introduction to a promising trilogy of films.

NOTE: Another little nitpick is that the thick British accents made it difficult to understand what some of the characters were saying. Is it weird that I think subtitles for an English film can be necessary sometimes?

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