By Scott Martin
Red Riding: In The Year of Our Lord 1974, UK, 2009
Directed by Julian Jarrold
Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1974 is the first of three films tracking a serial killer through Yorkshire between 1974 and 1983. The films mirror the actual Yorkshire Ripper and the police cover-ups and scams that took place at the time. The Yorkshire Ripper, thought at the time to be a mentally challenged man who had been caught (and forced to confess), had killed thirteen girls (perhaps more) and continued to run free for years, despite the public demand to have him caught. Consider the Zodiac killer, around the same time, here stateside. Also consider the David Fincher film Zodiac (2007) when watching this installment of the trilogy; they’re practically identical.
Eddie Dunford (Andrew Garfield, of The Social Network fame) is a young reporter not really looking to make a name for himself, nor is he looking for anything in particular. It’s odd, watching him maneuver through his job, aimless, but damn good at what he does. He travels home to his family after his father’s death to attend a funeral, but work comes first; he attends a press conference regarding a missing little girl named Claire. So begins a series of unfortunate events for Eddie. He meets Paula Garland (Rebecca Hall), the mother of a missing girl, as well as a real estate swindler and very shady man named John Dawson (Sean Bean), and digs too deep for his own good as he becomes obsessed with finding the killer. What he does find, however, is a cesspool of police corruption and the deeds of bad men. The film opens with a shot of a young girl, lying dead on the ground with angel’s wings sewn onto her back, an image that haunts and becomes personified in Eddie’s nightmares throughout the film.
That opening shot isn’t the only thing that makes this film hard to swallow. The thick West Yorkshire accents required the studio, Channel 4, to put subtitles on the film when released, and its pacing is unlike anything else these days, especially dramas about serial killers and corrupt police. Everything makes sense, but extreme attention and constant questioning are required in order to follow it. Fair enough; that’s the position our young hero is in, as well, so the pacing works to put the viewer directly in the middle of the whole confusing ordeal. The English subtitles over the English language track make the viewing experience a bit surreal and disorienting. All this helps to enhance the experience, where it could easily have made the film alienating. This is a credit to director Julian Jarrold, who shoots the film in beautiful 16mm, which allows for a grittier, fly-on-the-wall type of condensed viewing.
One flaw of the film is that Garfield isn’t a very convincing leading man; he works wonders in supporting roles, but his Eddie takes a while to enjoy watching. Conversely, the supporting cast shines with an extremely well-written script adapted by Tony Grisoni from David Peace’s novel. The characters are vividly drawn and expertly performed by Rebecca Hall as Paula, the woman with whom Eddie becomes involved, and Sean Bean as Dawson. Bean has a unique way of playing villains, making them people you feel like you could walk up to and have a conversation with for hours; he’s an approachable actor, if that makes any sense. Hall makes Paula a web of contradictions and vulnerability, making her anguish tangible, and she brings loads of sex appeal to the character, which makes her situation completely believable.
This is not an easy watch. Besides the pacing and subtitles, the film becomes increasingly violent and disturbing as it goes on, and its content is nearly unbearable once all is revealed. If you can stomach it, it’s a crime thriller that seeks to reset the bar for the genre and almost does it. Obviously dark crime thrillers are nothing new, and the Yorkshire Ripper might be a touchy subject for some who might view this as a capitalization on the tragic true story, but this is a film for film lovers; endlessly dissectable, it makes for incredible conversation. Another note, though: once you watch this film, take time to watch 1980 and 1983. The story is completed, and much is explained that won’t be in the first film.
Contact the author: ScottMartin@MoviesIDidntGet.com