Film critic David Thomson brazenly proclaimed The Red Riding Trilogy (three films directed by three different filmmakers) to be “a tragic achievement that surpasses that of ‘The Godfather'”. While I can’t quite agree with Thomson’s assertion, I’m thrilled his hyperbole has sparked so much international interest in the three films (now playing at IFC theater on 6th Avenue and On Demand) and the four David Peace novels on which they are based (the first of which I recommended a few weeks back), no matter how flawed the films themselves are.
The trilogy, which chronicles a decade of brutality (though the screen adaptation is not nearly as brutal as the book), anti-hero protagonists, sickening police corruption, torture, murder, and – not one but two – serial killers stalking the north of England, is a grim one. It’s rife with cliches while strangely remaining almost surreally confounding… After watching all three films (and I strongly believe you have to watch all three to absorb the complete feel of the work), I was both intrigued – though always kept at an arm’s length – and somewhat unsatisfied.
I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about the experience which was at times rather demanding (in no small part due to to its splintered narrative, thick northern accents and relentless violence) while at the same time almost laughably trite in its chronic overuse of rote serial-killer-drama conventions. I say ‘almost’ because in the piss soaked, knuckle-beaten, nuclear power plant dotted landscape of the films, there is no room for laughter, or even a smile. The “heroes” are almost as corrupted as the villains and the only ray of decency shines from the films’ pathetic victims and few female characters played with heartbreaking humanity by the lovely Rebecca Hall (as a grief stricken mother) and Maxine Peak (as a decent detective amongst wolves).
It’s certainly not perfect and it’s anything but pretty (although there is some lyricism to the cinematography, particularly the first installment shot on 16mm) but it’s definitely worth a look. By the way, reading the books won’t entirely spoil anything – the film adaptations vary drastically at times and even omit the second book (1978) of Peace’s tetralogy completely.