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'Red Riding' resolution resolved

Friday, February 11, 2011

I wasn't joking when I resolved to start watching the DVDs I've purchased, then neglected. And I certainly wasn't joking when I said that I'd begin the process by watching the trio of British crime dramas that are collectively known as "Red Riding." I had the full intent of watching them -- you know, when I got around to it.

Last weekend, I finally did. And I'm glad. Tell you why in a minute.

First, I have to give credit where credit is due. See, my wife took my recent New Year's resolution seriously -- more seriously than I did, anyway. She pulled the DVD box off the bookshelf and asked me, in her usual loving way, "Didn't you promise that you were going to finally watch these?"

Yeah, I replied begrudgingly. I did.

So I put the first movie, "1974," into the player, hoping it would be as good as advertised -- and it was. It's a tough, harrowing story, about a young crime reporter, played by Andrew Garfield, who has returned to his old hometown of Yorkshire in Northern England to take a position at the local newspaper. He's come back during a rather horrifying time; a young girl has been kidnapped while walking home from school. He and an overly-paranoid colleague link this disappearance to a pair of others that happened within the prior five years and start to pursue the matter, which leads them directly into the path of corrupt powerholders who have no intention of letting them continue their investigation. As he finds himself twisting into the violence and horror of the situations around him, the young reporter's world is turned upside-down and he is led to take drastic measures in an attempt to stop the person he sees as the ultimate villain in the matter.

Garfield, who is set to be the next big screen Spider-Man, gives a terrific performance in a terrific movie. It's not necessarily an easy movie to watch, I admit, but it's absorbing. So absorbing, in fact, that as soon as it was over, my wife wanted to move on to the next one immediately -- and we did.

"1980," the second film in the series, comes into the story from a new direction. A serial killer (nicknamed the "Yorkshire Ripper") has murdered a number of prostitutes since the mid-70s, seemingly at will, while the police are unable to glean a single good lead from the evidence they've gathered and witness statements they've taken. A top investigator (played by Paddy Considine) is brought in, ostensibly, to sort through the piles of documentation, while carrying out an internal investigation as to why there has been no progress. During the course of his work, the new man discovers some disturbing details, including a link between one of the murdered women to a dead -- and quite crooked - policeman, who was connected to several other members of the force (who were also quite crooked), all of whom were involved a deadly nightclub shoot-out years before.

Yes, this is a complex, dense thriller, with more than enough double-crosses and twists to satisfy the fan of any good potboiler, but there's more to it than that. I especially liked that fact that it linked to the first film throughout, giving me a fresh perspective on that story, while maintaining its own integrity.

After "1980," my wife and I decided to take a break -- the bleakness of the second film's ending necessitated a few fresh breaths.

The next day, we put on "1983," the final film. It not only successfully completes the trilogy, it also ultimately provides some needed light and hope through the darkness of the first two movies. Of the three movies, "1983" might be the most satisfying experience.

A character who has been present through all the films, a policeman played by David Morrissey, shares the spotlight in this one, along with a disreputable lawyer portrayed by Mark Addy. Using flashbacks to storylines in "1974," the viewer follows the policeman through his investigation of a new child kidnapping that is eerily similar to the ones that had taken place earlier and had been pinned on a mentally-challenged young man who is now confined to a state hospital. Meanwhile, the lawyer -- who was a childhood acquaintance of the accused -- has taken on the young man's appeal at the behest of the man's mother, who says that the new kidnapping proves that her son is innocent. Their individual investigations merge at a feather-lined shed behind an apartment complex where no one would choose to live if they had another option.

Throughout the movie, we see some horrifying truths -- some that were known (how truly corrupt the more powerful members of the police force had become) and some that weren't (what was happening to the children). But it leads to an undeniably emotional climax, when a crooked cop discovers his soul again and a man who has coasted for much of his life finally takes action and rescues an innocent from the depths of Hell. The lead actors are strong here: Morrissey shows the audience the torment of a man who can no longer stomach the poisonous atmosphere he helped create, while Addy -- who is best known for his comedic work -- displays a dramatic range that surprised and impressed me.

The descriptions on the boxes say that the films stand alone -- and they could -- but they are much stronger (and much more rewarding) when viewed together. The overall story arc is very tightly plotted and well-executed, the individual stories are powerful and involving, plus the performances are terrific across the board. No, the "Red Riding" trilogy isn't the easiest viewing experience (and it certainly isn't for everyone), but it's one I'm glad to say I've had.

I give special thanks to my wife for making me fulfill at least one of my New Year's resolutions. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go looking for the next DVD to consider conquering -- you know, next year.

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Jeremy Blomstedt
The Entertainment Center