30/31: Red Riding: In The Year Of Our Lord 1974
I get to a point in a film-watching sprint where I begin to wonder if I can recognize a good film any longer. I'll hit a C-minus/D-plus patch, which is usually only two or three movies but feels much longer, and I'll ask myself whether the project has finally, inevitably strangled my capacity for movie-going joy. Would I watch Goodfellas for the first time and grumble, "YOU'RE a shinebox"? Can I still love Noises Off, or should they all just legit shut up about the fucking sardines already?
Fact: hope is not dead. I mean, as far as Red Riding: In The Year Of Our Lord 1974 is concerned, it's not just dead, it may never have drawn breath at all. But as far as good stories go, I didn't take a single note for 90 minutes, and spent the last half hour pitched forward on the couch, elbows on knees. I don't think a narrative has grabbed me around the waist like that since I started The Wire. Maybe Epitafios. ("I meant to watch that!" Dude. New Year's marathon, seriously. It's really good, and Julio Chavez is un zorro.)
I haven't watched the other two chapters yet, so I hesitate to summarize the plot, but the plot almost isn't the point anyway. Just in case: it's sort of about an investigation into children disappearing in Yorkshire starting in the late '60s, in a case modeled on the Yorkshire Ripper. Really, though, it's about how that investigation is twisted and dishonored by the police, and the police in turn by the local businessman who really runs things (Sean Bean, sporting the pork-roast-in-a-turtleneck kit and bully smile of '70s Pete Rose). A young reporter who didn't cut it in London, Eddie Dunford (Andrew Garfield), is back home, trying to stay in the game and get to the bottom of the abductions, but the bottom is so much lower and darker than he imagines that he'll never reach it. Fog and smoke shorten the sight distance to feet, sometimes inches. Sometimes you don't really know what's been communicated, thanks to the accents that don't always penetrate an American ear, but then you'd kind of rather not know anyway. Every hallway is narrow, or covered with that horrid reflective geometric wallpaper from Lileks's Interior Desecrations, and the claustrophobia is mercilessly effective; the only solution to anything for the characters is to run away, and you'll want to get up and go find a sunny field someplace yourself, and stand in the middle of it.
The atmosphere is bleak, but enthralling instead of depressing (…so far; as I said, I've got the other two "years" left). Director Julian Jarrold builds a whole world that I bought into right away, and the actors move around in it like it's a documentary. Garfield is believably (i.e., sometimes frustratingly) determined, and he can really wear a pair of bell-bottoms. (He can really not wear them too, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.) (I mean his ass. It is great.) Bean is fantastic and revolting. Rebecca Hall as Paula Garland is spot-on, so much better than that thankless role in The Town; when Dunford takes off for a bit, promising he'll come back in a couple of hours, her compulsive nodding, knowing he will, knowing he can't, is perfect.
I hope I can do a better job of talking specifics once I've seen the entire trilogy, but like I said, my sense is that Red Riding intends a greater whole, a miasma of fear and rot that sinks into the viewer's clothing. And so far, it's working.
Tags: 31 Days 31 Films Andrew Garfield Epitafios Goodfellas James Lileks Julian Jarrold Julio Chavez movies Noises Off Pete Rose Rebecca Hall Red Riding: In The Year Of Our Lord 1974 Sean Bean The Wire