Red Riding: 1980 (United Kingdom, 2009)

March 04, 2010
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Red Riding: 1980 Poster

The middle segment of the Red Riding trilogy, Red Riding: 1980, represents the best of the three films - a taut, bleak perspective of the power of pervasive corruption. By the end of this movie, it becomes clear that the rot within the Yorkshire police force is so complete that it can't be cut out or cleaned up. The job still gets done but those who do it are not the clean-cut heroes of fiction. They are self-serving and little seems beyond them when it comes to protecting their ill-gotten gains. As became apparent in Red Riding: 1974, this story is not so much about crime solving as it is about the twisted workings of the unit that is supposed to be doing the crime solving. Of the movies, this one has the tightest plot and the highest level of tension. The stakes are arguably higher in Red Riding: 1983 but that episode doesn't achieve the level of intensity exhibited by Red Riding: 1980.

Originally, the Red Riding movie series was intended to be a one-for-one adaptation of David Peace's quartet of novels. Budgetary cuts, however, forced the number of films to be reduced from four to three. The primary deletion was Red Riding: 1977, although aspects of that book are represented in this film along with the primary 1980 material. Red Riding: 1980 is the shortest of the three movies (by about 10 minutes) but has the most going on. The potential for an inattentive viewer to get lost is greater here than in either the 1974 or 1983 segments, but the rewards are also higher. The production is less able than its predecessor to stand on its own; the background gleaned from Red Riding: 1974 is helpful, although not mandatory, to following the narrative. The main thrust of the plot is self-contained but there's too much extraneous material for the picture to be considered fully satisfying without being seen as a piece of a greater whole.

Red Riding: 1980 introduces a new main character: Peter Hunter (Paddy Considine), a "clean" Manchester cop being brought in to investigate the local police force's handling of the high-profile "Yorkshire Ripper" case. To date, 13 women have been killed by what is presumed to be one person, but there have been no arrests and little progress. (Events in this movie are loosely based on an infamous real-life case.) Peter's hand-picked team includes two past associates: the businesslike John Nolan (Tony Pitts) and Helen Marshall (Maxine Peake), with whom he previously had an affair. There is immediate friction between Peter and the Yorkshire police bosses - Maurice Jobson (David Morrissey), Harold Angus (Jim Carter), and the pugnacious Billy Molloy (Warren Clarke) - and it impedes progress. To make matters worse, the investigating group's "liaison" with the regular officers, Bob Craven (Sean Harris), has something to hide - a fact that is true about nearly every character in the movie, including Peter. His exhumation of details about each of the Ripper's victims uncovers a variety of inconsistencies that hint at a massive cover-up.

As was the case with Red Riding: 1974, the film's initial thrust, which seems to be a straightforward murder mystery investigation, becomes a secondary concern. The Yorkshire Ripper is eventually identified and caught but this is presented almost as an afterthought. The real meat of the story involves the hows and whys of the police's approach to the crimes and the criminals. Tendrils of this stretch back to 1974 and the events that occurred in the previous movie. In fact, it is revealed that Peter was the "outside man" brought in to look into the aftermath of the bloody massacre that formed the climax of Red Riding: 1974. And Bob Craven is one of the two cops who tortured journalist Eddie Dunford.

The look of the film is dark and noir-ish, although not as gritty as that of Red Riding: 1974. That movie was shot in 16mm and blown up to 35mm with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. This one, directed by Man on Wire's James Marsh, was shot in 35mm widescreen. The additional "polish," however, does nothing to diminish the ominous atmosphere or the sense of oppression accompanying the setting. In all three films, the Yorkshire countryside, dominated by the cooling towers of a nuclear power plant, exerts a dark pull. The sense of isolation emboldens the police. Law and Justice are not synonymous. It's like the Old West where the will of the sheriff is all that matters - for good or ill. Anyone from the outside seeking to bring him down will learn that it takes more than dogged work and good intentions to erode an established power structure.

The acting in Red Riding: 1980 is of a higher caliber than that of its predecessor. Paddy Considine is an established, respected actor and it shows in his performance. The members of the supporting cast, with the exception of Maxine Peake (who is a weak link of sorts), are solid. David Morrissey, whose input to the 1974 story is minimal, has more to do in this segment. Warren Clarke, despite not having a great deal of screen time, crafts an utterly despicable villain. Other performers like Peter Mullan and Robert Sheehan remain in the background (as was the case in the first film) but add to the sense of continuity.

Red Riding: 1980 is the movie in which the trilogy comes into its own. Gone is the uneven pacing associated with the first film. This production starts at a high level and proceeds on a clear and strong trajectory. It tells its own story while at the same time expanding the canvas of the overall tale. The ending completes the individual arc but leaves the viewer yearning for more. It's hard to imagine anyone watching this film not seeking the time and opportunity to see the final volume of the trilogy.

Red Riding: 1980 (United Kingdom, 2009)

Run Time: 1:34
U.S. Release Date: 2010-02-05
MPAA Rating: "NR" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Content, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1