On Cape Cod, it's winter again. Things are just as bleak at the Regal Cinemas, Hyannis. Thor was a complete snore. Prom, which I saw with my daughter, was surprisingly enjoyable; it was sincere, tenderhearted, and refreshingly understated for a teenage movie set in your typical Hollywood high school. Meanwhile, there isn't much out there on the cloudy horizon.
My cinematic salvation has been instant streaming at Netflix. First, you have to download the app; then you have to understand that not every movie is marked “Play,” but it’s a great way to catch up on last year’s movies, or old classics, without having to wait for the DVD to arrive in the mail. My first pick was Blade Runner, which I hadn’t seen in many years, and my Mac desktop did justice to its amazing lighting and the intricate detail of its futuristic cityscapes.
A downside of instant streaming is that sometimes it stops and starts, or blinks off and has to reload. I watched Restrepo. What a powerful documentary! What a sad episode in our history! But the instant streaming was having issues. What occasionally happens is that the movie paralyzes into a series of freeze frames though the audio goes on without stuttering, a sort of artsy effect that seemed to suit Restrepo.
When Netflix had me pegged for films that are “dark, gritty, and suspenseful,” and laid out a string of movie suggestions that were eerily spot on, I discovered a viewing gold mine: the Red Riding Trilogy: 1974, 1980, 1983, a very gripping, viscerally haunting, artistically filmed, wonderfully performed British series of three made-for-TV films about police corruption in West Yorkshire, and about a cover-up of circumstances surrounding the disappearances of three girls, as well as the mismanagement of the investigation of a series of murders based on the Yorkshire Ripper murders of the late 70s and early 80s.
I was riveted. I watched all three movies, and then watched the first and last movies a second time each – not just because of the complex plot involving a large cast of characters and the hard-to-follow Yorkshire accents – but because I was fascinated by this tale of greed and cruelty at the disadvantage of poor, uneducated people living in a garbage-strewn housing development in the shadow of a steaming nuclear power plant.
Red Riding: 1974, directed by Julian Jarrold, follows the efforts of young Yorkshire Post reporter Eddie Dunford (Andrew Garfield) to investigate the disappearance of a little girl and to connect it with two previous, unsolved disappearances that started in 1969. While Dunford, played with energetic zeal by Garfield, becomes involved with Paula Garland (Rebecca Hall), the alcoholic mother of the second girl to disappear, he finds himself up against a police force that rules like a gang of medieval warlords. Chortling at their own greed, they raise a toast to “the North, where we do what we want.” But as they, in turn, kowtow to the wealthy developer John Dawson, played as a beefy, seedy tycoon by Sean Bean, they resort to all manner of cruelties to guard their turf and prevent anyone from uncovering evidence of their corruption and their negligence in regards to the disappearances. When the third girl is found dead, amputated swans’ wings stitched to her back, Dunford comes close to revealing the unspeakable depravity. But there seems to be no hope when he comes up against the merciless goons of the corrupt police force.
In Red Riding: 1980, directed by James Marsh, it’s six years later, the girls have been forgotten, and a series of unsolved prostitutes starts a public outcry against the police. Detective Peter Hunter (Paddy Considine) is brought from the outside to take over the investigation. Of course, he uncovers sordid secrets and resistance within the force, especially when his findings suggest that the most recent murder was committed by a copycat killer, or by someone attempting to attribute the woman’s murder to the Yorkshire Slasher. Very quickly, Hunter realizes that something is rotten in West Yorkshire, as suggested to him by BJ (Robert Sheehan), a male prostitute who knows some sordid truths about the locals.
If I call Red Riding: 1983, directed by Anand Tucker, the most powerful of the three films, that’s saying a lot when you consider the visceral effect of the crime, cruelty, and torture going on in the first two films. The most artistic of the three, with its creative cinematography and the gritty poetry of BJ’s voiceovers, 1983 immediately links with 1974 when a fourth girl’s disappearance seems to make it clear that the poor Polish immigrant nailed for the first three disappearances is innocent, as flashbacks clarify mysteries established during the investigations of Dunford, the reporter, and Hunter, the detective.
I love how the heroic investigator in this third film is a lonely, slovenly, overweight legal representative named John Piggott (Mark Addy), who bravely enters the lion’s den to uncover the truth, correct past mistakes, and save the innocent. With the help of Maurice Jobson (David Morrissey), a police inspector with a guilty conscience, ends left loose (often too loose) in the first two films are tied up as Piggott and Jobson get closer to the ghastly answer.
Released theatrically in the United States in February, 2010, the Red Riding Trilogy may be destined to become a film directed by Ridley Scott. But, as they stand, these three made-for-TV episodes provide the satisfaction of an epic theatrical film. They play together as a very compelling unit. Fine acting, in all three films, portrays a Dickensian cast of characters ranging from base prostitutes to lofty bureaucrats bloated with their ill-gotten gains. Meanwhile, the imaginative cinematography ups the tension with eerie dream sequences and flashbacks as well as vivid depictions of sleazy alleys, scrubby moors, and smoky pubs where the thugs of the West Yorkshire police force suck down pints of ale while turning their backs on an organized network of unspeakable depravity.