Although the ambitious but convoluted Red Riding trilogy centers around two different series of grisly murders, the true focus is on police corruption. Based on a quartet of popular novels by English novelist David Peace, the crime saga has been pared down to three feature-length films, all written for the screen by Tony Grisoni, and each helmed by a different director. It makes for a dark, slow, moody triple-feature, although I sometimes found myself wishing more time was spent on the serial killer aspect of the story, and less time on the dirty cop shenanigans.
In Red Riding “1974“, a hotshot young crime reporter in West Yorkshire manages to connect three local murders, all girls between the ages of 8-10, as being committed by the same person. Although the deeply unethical Yorkshire police are eager to pin the murders on roving gypsies, the reporter believes that a wealthy landowner (Sean Bean) may be somehow involved. From the smoke-hazed newsrooms to the period clothing, “1974” is steeped in rich, realistic detail. Like the next two films in the series, it’s very deliberately paced, a solid first entry that lets the audience know exactly what to expect from the trilogy as a whole. (In other words, it ain’t The Shield.)
Out of the three films, I was most interested in watching the second entry, Red Riding “1980”, for two reasons: it stars the always awesome Paddy Considine (Dead Man’s Shoes), AND it focuses on the real-life Yorkshire Ripper, a brutal but inept serial killer who was eventually convicted of murdering 13 women (and probably a handful more they never charged him with). Considine plays a straight-laced officer asked to conduct an inquiry surrounding the crooked cops investigating the Ripper case. The police are quick to pin any gruesome unsolved murder on the Yorkshire Ripper, and Considine is worried that the Ripper might be taking the blame for a murder or two he didn’t commit. Although “1980” has the narrative potential to be the most interesting entry in the series, it primarily serves as a bridge between “1974” and “1983”. And the best parts of the story (the search for the Yorkshire Ripper) remained buried under a bunch of talky corruption rubbish.
The Ripper storyline is abandoned completely in the final chunk of the saga, Red Riding “1983”, instead picking back up with the trio of murders committed in “1974”, except now it’s 9 years later and there’s been a new murder fitting the profile. (Which, by the way, is that the murderer tries to sew a dead swan’s wings onto the girl while she’s still alive. Kind of gross.) Back in ‘74, the police charged a local retard with the three killings, but he’s still incarcerated in ‘83, so it’s hard to explain who’s responsible for the new murder. A slobby lawyer and a sleazy cop work independently to solve the mystery.
Loose ends abound in the Red Riding trilogy, and any hope of a satisfactory resolution are dashed to the British pavement with the overly-ambiguous final film. Steeped in melancholy and ugliness, the movies manage to get the serial killer mood exactly right, even as they stumble under the convoluted weight of their own porous storytelling. More thorough explanations and a stronger emphasis on police procedure would go a long way toward redeeming this high-end project that can be occasionally hard to follow.
Red Riding “1974”: 3.5 out of 5 Skulls
Red Riding “1980”: 3.5 out of 5 Skulls
Red Riding “1983”: 3 out of 5 Skulls