Red Riding Trilogy -- Film Review

Benjamin Walker
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NEW YORK - OCTOBER 13:  Actor Benjamin Walker attends the "Bloody Bloody Jackson" opening night after party at Brasserie 8 1/2 on October 13, 2010 in New York City.

Maybe it's the underlying material of David Peace's novels, but the "Red Riding Trilogy," while strong in performances and atmosphere, is a daunting tangle of characters, time periods, crimes and cover-ups that is more "who's where" than whodunit.

Awash in fine craftsmanship and bestowing nice surprises, the films, which premiered at Telluride, are always engaging. Cinephiles attracted to the subject matter and the talent will turn up at theaters in February or grab IFC's simultaneous VOD release.

From the get-go, most of the "Red Riding" villains (corrupt coppers, a developer/scoundrel) are obvious, so the hunt for the killer of little girls and one woman is just a gimmick. Instead, the trilogy, set in the U.K.'s grimy Yorkshire region, is about greed, power and corruption -- low behavior in high places.

Paranoia and evil run through all three films. (The "Red Riding" title surely alludes to the innocence-meets-horror clash of the fairy tale.) The recurring characters, events and dreary locale also provide glue, while three directors -- Julian Jarrold (the recent "Brideshead Revisited"), James Marsh ("Man on Wire") and Anand Tucker ("Hilary and Jackie") -- lend their styles to Tony Grisoni's scripts.

Jarrold's "1974," imbued with classic noir elements and a dollop of "Chinatown," has cocky rookie crime journalist Eddie Dunford (Andrew Garfield) after the story of what might be the related crimes of missing girls in the region. His determination to connect the dots puts him at odds with editor Bill Hadley (John Henshaw) and gruff police chief Bill Molloy (Warren Clarke), the latter no one to mess with.

Eddie is AWOL when Clare Kemplay's body is discovered. Her unsolved murder haunts the three films. He follows clues that lead him to sleazy development tycoon John Dawson (Sean Bean) and inevitable cop sources, including detective inspector Maurice Jobson (David Morrissey) and two sadistic cops without conscience, Bob Craven (Sean Harris) and Tommy Douglas (Tony Mooney). Eddie's trust in officer Bob Fraser (Steven Robertson), to whom he hands over evidence implicating Dawson, might prove fatal.

Noir anti-hero Eddie finds his femme fatale in Paula Garland (Rebecca Hall, moving 180 degrees away from her upper-crust "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" role), a victim's mother and Dawson's squeeze. Eddie also tangles with unstable teen Leonard Cole (Gerard Kearns), who discovered Clare's body, and his dodgy guardian, vicar Martin Laws (Peter Mullan).

Add to the character overload the mentally unstable Michael Myshkin (Daniel Mays), accused of Clare's murder; Eddie's colleague Barry Gannon (Anthony Flanigan), who pays the price for learning too much; and BJ (Robert Sheehan), a down-and-out rent boy wholly entrenched in the intrigue. Eddie's investigative journey takes him to Dawson's posh hangout, the Karachi Club, on a fateful, violent night that punctuates all three films.

In contrast to "1974's" grainy super-16mm evocation of Yorkshire noir, both Marsh's "1980" and Tucker's "1983," shot in 35mm and widescreen, are slicker. Although the dank, nocturnal atmosphere doesn't return, many of the characters and events do.

The narrative of "1980" is carried by veteran officer Peter Hunter (Paddy Considine), who had headed the Karachi Club shootout investigation years back and is brought from Manchester to lead a covert operation assigned to solve the "Ripper" murders and one possible copycat killing.

"1983" revisits much that happened since "1974" but also clarifies the high-level conspiracy that perverted justice in Leeds. Here, Morrissey's Detective Jobson embodies the film's theme of redemption. As he navigates a sea of clues, he confronts his own culpability and becomes instrumental in the salvation of one child.

Opens: Friday, Feb. 5 (also on VOD) (IFC Films)
Production: Revolution Films, Channel 4
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Sean Bean, Mark Addy, Paddy Considine, Rebecca Hall, David Morrissey, Peter Mullan, Warren Clarke, Sean Harris, Tony Mooney, Steven Robertson, Gerard Kearns, Daniel Mays, Anthony Flanigan, Robert Sheehan
Directors: Julian Jarrold ("1974"), James Marsh ("1980"), Anand Tucker ("1983")
Screenwriter: Tony Grisoni, adapting from the books by David Peace
Producers: Andrew Eaton, Anita Overland, Wendy Brazington
Executive producers: Liza Marshall, Hugo Heppell, Norman Merry. Directors of photography: Rob Hardy ("1974"), Igor Martinovic ("1980"), David Higgs ("1983)"
Production designers: Cristina Casali ("1974"), Tom Burton ("1980"), Alison Dominitz ("1983")
Music: Adrian Johnston ("1974"), Dickon Hinchcliffe ("1980"), Barrington Pheloung ("1983")
Costume designers: Natalie Ward ("1974"), Charlotte Walter ("1980"), Caroline Harris ("1983")
Editors: Andrew Hulme ("1974"), Jinx Godfrey ("1980"), Trevor Waite ("1983")
No Rating, 105 minutes ("1974"), 96 minutes ("1980"), 104 minutes ("1983")