Thursday, October 14, 2010

Review: Red Riding Trilogy

"The devil triumphs when good men do naught."

This is uttered during Part I of the "Red Riding Trilogy" -- a British TV series that centers on Yorkshire, England during the time of the Yorkshire Ripper serial murders that occurred during the 1970s. The line is brief, I don't believe it was ever said again throughout this 300-minute behemoth of a series, yet it seems to be the singular sentiment at the center of this story.

When I first started this blog, I subconsciously wanted it to be mainly positive, because there's enough negativity out there, and I made an unwritten rule not to publish complaints, grievances or rants of any kind -- if I don't like something, it won't make it to print.

But, tricky situation here, because I cannot say that I enjoyed this series overall. As it wore on, I started wanting it all to wrap up already so that I could leave this dark, insidious world and all of its despicable characters behind. But at the same time, I'm fascinated by how it was put together and the ambitious nature it took to tell this story.

The trilogy is divided into years 1974, 1980 and 1983. As each begins, it introduces the time period as "In the Year of our Lord:" which I found to be a nice touch, seeing as God is absolutely nowhere to be found in this story.

What I found interesting about this, though, is that while the entire trilogy is one written work, each part is driven by a different director with his own take on the subject matter. Further, you can tell that each part uses different cameras or type of film quality -- where 1974 is gritty and grainy, 1980 feels more cinematic in scope and 1983 almost appears to be in high-definition. It provides a realistic sense of time passing, as well as different interpretations of the characters, while perfectly capturing the essence of each segment.

Regarding the story, as the Yorkshire Ripper commits grisly murders after abducting, torturing and raping young girls and women -- subject matter that is unspeakably grotesque enough if it were the only heinous plot of a story -- the rotten to the core Yorkshire police department supposedly tries to solve the murders and capture the Ripper.

Problem is, they're so disgustingly wrapped up in their own egos, greed, lust for power and inhumanity to not only keep these murders from happening, but their horrifying acts are actually intertwined with the Ripper's murders. This effectively makes this whole world utterly deplorable and agonizing to be a part of.

I was hard-pressed to find any redeeming qualities from the vast majority of characters in this -- and those "good men" who do, in fact, try to do something are all flawed or carrying some sort of negative baggage, and they are systematically snuffed out for their efforts.

Even one cop, Maurice Jobson (David Morrissey), who has a so-called guilty conscience is a do-nothing, weak, spineless sap who watches, and participates, as all of these atrocities by the police department are set in motion. By the time he gets around to making a move, everything has devolved into a convoluted mess of sin, despair, knowingly wrongful convictions, preying on the innocent, torture of prisoners, malicious manipulation, and covering up the ghastly deeds of some of their own all in the name of ... what exactly? "To the North, where we do what we want," they toast themselves regularly.

Thing is, I really like Part 1. It surrounds a young journalist, Eddie Dunford (Andrew Garfield) eager to make a name for himself, and he gets a job as the crime reporter for the Yorkshire Post and takes it upon himself to find the Ripper and put a stop to the brutal slayings. He gets in too deep, becoming involved with the mother of one of the missing girls, and he becomes hopelessly entangled in the corruption. But his journey from being somewhat egotistical to genuinely wanting to prevent any more girls from dying is interesting to watch. I was hooked from the start, where thunder ominously rolls through a deep, heavy, gray sky accompanied by a haunting theme that plays throughout.

The second part is the slowest of the three, taking on a film noir style as a new detective -- Peter Hunter (Paddy Considine) -- six years later, is still trying to solve the murders, this time of prostitutes. Yes, he gets in too deep and becomes hopelessly entangled in the corruption. A memorable scene from this one involves the Ripper (Joseph Mawle) describing one of his kills that is utterly chilling, and unfortunately probably something I'll never get out of my head.

As the third part begins, you realize that nothing good can come of this story at all. Everyone is so completely appalling that it wears on you to the point where, while the film admirably tries to wrap up and connect all the parts together -- which does have its interesting moments that demonstrate the skill of the filmmakers -- you don't even care anymore. It all becomes a tangled web of twists and revelations that drowns out an obvious attempt at ending with an uplifting and redemptive moment.

Well, now that I have you running to Neflix to move this to the top of your queue ...

I understand I didn't sell this movie. I wasn't planning to. I think the majority of this diatribe is to clear my head from watching it. But as grim as movies like these are to sit through, sometimes I feel a kind of obligation to suffer through them.

Why? I'm not really sure.

What I'm mainly bothered by is that I'm not sure what the point of this movie is. I like to think it's saying that it's important to not completely disregard or turn a blind eye to the darkness of human nature, because it's then when we are at our most vulnerable.

But for two-thirds of this series, good fails miserably before earning some modicum of success -- and even then it cannot be celebrated because it carries with it the ugly scars of the past.

So we're really only left with one unappealing and downright frightening conclusion here ... that In the Year of Our Lord 1974, 1980 and 1983, in Yorkshire, the devil triumphs whether good men do something or naught.

Note: If you do check this out, I'd recommend putting on the subtitles. The accents are quite thick and the characters are very hard to understand, even though you'd rather not hear what's coming out of their mouths the majority of the time.

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