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To Catch a Killer: Part 1

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Netflix Watch Instantly, how I love thee. You have exposed to a whole bunch of stuff that I a.) would never have had access to, or b.) would have never even known existed. Take Red Riding. Without everyone's favorite excuse to not get out of bed to watch movies, I am now wise to the joys of this BBC miniseries. Consisting of three films, based on the novels by David Pearce, Red Riding concerns the hunt for a serial killer, spanning multiple years and viewpoints. The first of the series, 1974, starts off cheery enough, but soon descends into a dark and twisted detective procedural that is sure to please any crime fan.

This wasn't in the job description!

Eddie Dunford is a charismatic, naive, and cocky investigative journalist working for the Yorkshire Post. When a story about a missing school girl is dumped on his desk, he begins to discover something far more sinister. Previous kidnappings are linked to this one, and certain members of Britain's higher echelon would be perfectly happy to leave them unsolved. As he begins to dig deeper, Dunford uncovers layers upon layers of police corruption, lies, racism, and greed. As he finds himself becoming involved with the mother of one of the missing children, he suddenly finds himself the target of some pretty powerful and dangerous types.

If you've seen any film of this type, you can kind of know what to expect. The journalist who finds himself in way over his head, the shady person in power who knows more than he's telling, the attack in a parking garage leaving the protagonist lying bloodied up against his car, and so on. Red Riding: 1974 doesn't try and change the cliches or come up with anything new. It treads old ground, but it does it very well. The characters feel real, and the story follows a logical progression that wraps up this segment of the story, while leaving plenty to be exposed in the next two installments. No comment on how it shapes up as an adaptation, but it's still a well told and engrossing tale regardless.

Andrew Garfield shines as Dunford. This was before he created Facebook, or donned Spider-Man's cowl, so his audience wasn't as, let's say, broad. He still rocks our socks off. Dunford is, at times, stupidly idealistic, very confident, and headstrong, at others, scared, childish, and damaged. Garfield plays both sides of the spectrum to perfection. Who'd have known he was this good before Fincher honed him. Guess some people are just born with it.

Sean Bean plays John Dawson, a construction mogul who is more involved in the kidnappings than he initially lets on. It's nice to see Bean play a villain without the camp for a change. He's made a name for himself playing a villain with charisma (National Treasure), a revenge complex (Patriot Games), or a Bond villain (Goldeneye). Here however, he is just a despicable man, with almost no redeemable qualities. You know someone is evil when, confronted with the fact that he kidnapped, raped, and murdered a series of little girls, casually shrugs it off with a pious "Private weakness. Fucking hell, I'm no angel." Chilling!

Rebecca Hall rounds out the main three, painting a convincing portrait of heartbroken mother grieving over the loss of her child. She also excels.

World's Most Awesome Staring Contest

Part one of this trilogy was directed by Julian Jarrold, who takes more than a few cues from the likes of David Fincher, Martin Scorcese, and other directors who specialize is dark, twisting crime dramas. Red Riding: 1974 is a depressing movie to look at, with most everything taking place in darkly lit environments, with nary a hint of sunshine or blue sky. It's an aesthetic approach that totally helps the film, adequately setting up the dangerous world, and leaving it to the actors to build upon it. While Jarrold lacks the mastery of the style that Fincher has in spades, it's still an effective imitation that does nothing to mitigate the overall product.

Two more to go. I'm holding off my opinion on the series until I see the final installments, 1980 and 1983, but, if this first one is anything to go on, they should be "da bomb"! Red Riding: 1974 is an engrossing exploration of a darker side of the human condition. When the crazy finale drops it's payload, you can't help but feverishly anticipate what comes next. Expect thoughts on the next two in the coming days, and get your ass to a computer to experience this awesome series. You're welcome!

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