Monday, October 25, 2010


 review by Mark Pezzula

Directed by Anan Tucker

Starring Mark Addy, David Morrissey, Peter Mullan

Red Riding: In the Year Of Our Lord 1983 is the final film in the Red Riding Trilogy, (the first two films I reviewed here and here) and ties up loose ends and fills in gaps left by the previous two films. Specifically, it reveals the identity of the person held responsible for the disappearance and murder of the little girls from the first Red Riding film - 1974. It also reveals the full nature of the Yorkshire Police Department's corruption, and focuses, in one story, about the regret experienced by Detective Superintendent Maurice Jacobson (David Morrissey) who, we see in flashbacks, was mostly hesitant to go along with the criminal activities of his coworkers and superiors.

The film also follows a new character: public solicitor John Piggot (Mark Addy). Piggot is contacted by the family of Michael Myshkin (Daniel Mays), a mentally challenged man who was arrested and convicted of the girls' murders at the end of the first film. Refusing to appeal Myshkin's conviction, Piggot nonetheless begins his own personal investigation into a nearly ten year old case, which seems to have a connection to a the recent disappearance of another young girl Hazel Atkins.

Where Red Riding '74 was a noir/revenge film and '80 was a tight police procedural, Red Riding '83 leans towards being a more conventional thriller, with tepid results. It's quite easily the least engaging of the three films and, while fulfilling in the sense that it answers questions asked by the first two films, fails at being anything more than a competent ending to the astounding first and second acts.

Much of the films downfall can be laid at the feet of the two competing story lines. Whereas '74 and '80 each had a solo hero (with important characters drifting in and out of both films), '83 splits its time between Jacobson and Piggot. While there's nothing necessarily wrong with this kind of structure, the film is hampered by the fact that Piggot's story line is simply uninteresting, and features lots of wheel spinning. Piggot does little else other than interview Myshkin multiple times, questioning the sad imbecile and trying to uncover the identity of the real murderer. Something tells me another version of the script fleshed out Piggot's character and gave him more depth - there are shades of that depth in '83 (Piggot is a messy slob who seems to have an attraction to a young witness), but nothing except the bare surface of Piggot's life is ever really examined.

Maurice Jacobson's story is the fascinating one, and probably should have been allowed to stand alone while Piggot's got excised. As fascinating as it is, though, the screenplay gives Jacobson's tale an Achilles heel: flashbacks. Jacobson is reeling from his involvement in the corruption of the West Yorkshire Constabulary, and although Morrissey exhibits some fine acting chops that bring real pathos to the character of Maurice Jacobson, the film constantly double-backs on itself, sometimes for ten to twenty minute stretches at a time, to show Jacobson performing actions that weren't seen - but were referenced to - in the first two films.  It's a frustrating structure, exacerbated by a shoe-horned in love interest (a psychic medium played by Saskia Reeves) that gets barely any screentime but seems to be the woman of Jacobson's dreams.

When Jacobson and Piggot finally do cross paths at the end of the film, after spending the majority of it dealing with their own personal strife and difficulty in finding Hazel Atkins and the murderer, what should be an arousing and satisfying conclusion is rendered impotent by the film's odd structure choices and questionable information. Characters see and imagine things they couldn't possibly know about, and although I'm fine with leaving some story points up in the air, '83's frustrating preceding hour and a half coupled with a few vague explanations (although the identity of the killer is unquestionably revealed) result in an experience that's deeply disappointing.

The film isn't a total waste, though. Addy turns in a fine performance as Piggot - although, again, it would have been nice to see deeper into his character. And Morrissey makes even the longest flashback a little easier to watch. Fantastic British character actor Peter Mullan, who plays the mysterious Father Martin Laws, is fun to watch as well. David Mays particular impresses as the aforementioned Michael Myshkin. Also, as much as director Anan Tucker doesn't have a grasp on Tony Grisoni's convoluted (which shocked me, seeing as he wrote the almost perfect first two films) screenplay, he does capture the era in grand fashion. (Although the film contains none of the visual richness of '74 or even the classy film look of '80 - '83 was shot using the very modern digital Red One camera.)

Overall, the Red Riding trilogy is an outstanding accomplishment. While its conclusion leaves much to be desired, it still stands as a fine piece of work front to back. '83 may be disappointing, but don't let that keep you from experiencing this magnificent story.

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