Red Riding: 1980
2009, NR, 93 min. Directed by James Marsh. Starring Paddy Considine, Maxine Peake, Peter Mullan, Tony Pitts, Sean Harris, Tony Mooney, David Morrissey, Warren Clarke, Robert Sheehan, Julia Ford.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., March 26, 2010
Red Riding: 1980 is ostensibly about the Yorkshire Ripper – the opening credits roll over a documentarylike montage detailing the victim roll call of the UK’s notorious serial killer – but in truth, that’s a bit of a feint. This second installment in a three-part dramatization of dirty dealings in Yorkshire (based on the novels by David Peace) only skates around the real-life Ripper case; its primary concern is the notorious corruption mill that powers the region’s law enforcement. “How deep does the rot go?” one crusading detective asks another. It’s a rhetorical question, really, as much as the one that doesn’t get asked in return but is certainly understood: “How big is your shovel?” There are familiar faces from the first film – including the shell-shocked john BJ (Sheehan) and the Rev. Laws (Mullan), who seems to collect distressed women as pets – but this second film belongs to Manchester-based Peter Hunter (Considine). He’s been called in by the Home Office to take over the Ripper investigation, but the lads in Leeds don’t like him – for one, because if anyone’s going to catch the Ripper, it’s going to be the Yorkshire Constabulary and not “Saint Cunt,” as they call Hunter. But the seeds of their departmentwide dislike of the detective go much deeper: Five years prior, he ran a special-unit investigation into a multiple homicide at a bar called the Karachi Club that stank of police involvement. (The shootout – or at least, part of it – formed the horrifying climax of first installment Red Riding: 1974.) Hunter never got to the bottom of the case (he was called back to Manchester when his wife miscarried), but key suspects in the investigation have since ascended the ranks of Yorkshire PD – and the ranks are closing in on Hunter fast. The beleaguered cop tries to connect the dots between the ongoing Ripper investigation, the Karachi Club cold case, and an additional unsolved murder, but – as in the first film of the trilogy – Red Riding: 1980 is not particularly interested in the participatory thrills of crime procedurals. The audience can try sleuthing it out all it wants; the clues are there, but it takes absorbing the trilogy as a piece to make sense of them. In Julian Jarrold’s RR: 1974, a dolorous thing thrumming with style, it hardly mattered; the artistry of the filmmaking trumped all. RR: 1980 helmsman Marsh opts for a cleaner, less claustrophobic approach (the shift from 16mm to 35mm stock also contributes to a less frenzied-feeling aesthetic). Stylistically, it’s a good fit for this installment’s lead, the honorable if a tad plodding Hunter. But when Marsh tarts up the film – handheld family Christmas footage, flashbacks too literally arrived upon – the result teeters toward the same kind of corniness that threatened to engulf his crowd-pleasing documentary Man on Wire. RR: 1980 isn’t a placeholder by any means, but it suffers by its middle placement, lacking the newness of the first film or the cumulative satisfactions of the last.