When Judge Roy Hrab tells you that Red Road is not the Yellow Brick Road, you'd better believe him.
"I have this feeling that I've met you before."
Red Road is the first of a trilogy of films produced as part of the "Advance Party" concept. All three films must contain the same group of characters (played by the same actors), take place in Scotland, and be made by first-time directors and producers. Will the trilogy succeed? Based on the first installment, I don't know. Red Road is a creepy thriller with strong performance, but it suffers from uneven transitions in tone and poorly established changes of heart by a central figure.
Facts of the Case
Jackie (Kate Dickie) is a closed-circuit television (CCTV) operator in Glasgow, Scotland. Her job is to watch over sections of the city for crime through the lenses of the security cameras positioned around Glasgow. One day a man from her past, Clyde Henderson (Tony Curran, The Good German), appears on one Jackie's monitors in the area of the Red Road apartment complex. She begins to stalk him using the camera. However, she does not stop at this. Before long, she finds herself working her way ever more deeply into Clyde's life.
Red Road is a voyeuristic film. Jackie watches the people on her surveillance monitors. A handheld camera follows Jackie around the city. Facial close-ups and profiles dominate the film. The characters speak in short sentences, typically punctuated with swearing. It's claustrophobic and dark. There is a sense of dread that hangs over the film. This ominous atmosphere is largely due to the mysterious nature of the relationship between Clyde and Jackie, and director Andrea Arnold's strict adherence to voyeuristic camera work.
The end product is fairly disturbing. Particularly effective is the sequence where Jackie manages to work her way into a party at Clyde's apartment. Another well-executed scene involves Jackie following Clyde with the CCTV cameras to a school where he gives a gift to a young girl. Is he a pedophile? Because the CCTV has no audio, Jackie (and the audience) has no idea of what is going on between Clyde and the girl.
Rather than risk giving away too much of the story, I will move on to other aspects of the film.
The performances are impressive. Because the dialogue is minimal most of the acting is through body language and facial expressions. Dickie gives a very strong performance as Jackie. This is a woman who has withdrawn into herself and appears to be sleepwalking through life, focusing her life almost exclusively on her job. That is, until her recognition of Clyde brings out a darker and more calculating side of her personality. Curran is equally as good as Clyde, a man struggling to stay on the right side of the law and rebuild his life after being released from prison. Also making impressive turns are Mark Compton (Sweet Sixteen) as Clyde's volatile roommate, Stevie, and Nathalie Press (My Summer Of Love) as April, Stevie's cheerless girlfriend.
Technically the presentation is fine. The video transfer is adequate given the atmosphere the film is seeking to create. The CCTV scenes are by their nature grainy and blurred. The handheld camera work is on the dark side, but this does not diminish the voyeuristic effect. The audio is serviceable because of the brevity of the dialogue and almost complete absence of a soundtrack. The Scottish accents are on the thick side and, while it is understandable, I would recommend making use of the subtitles, at least initially.
The only extra of significance is Arnold's Academy Award-winning short film "Wasp." The film is about a poor single mother of four children and her attempt to go out on a date with an old acquaintance without revealing that she has kids. It is a wrenching story that is more affecting than Red Road. The other extras are the theatrical trailer, production stills, and an insert in the DVD case of an interview with Arnold that gives some background on the Advance Party concept and the making of Red Road.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
One shortcoming of Red Road is that it is not an original story. Without giving too much away, the film can be described as Rear Window meets The Crossing Guard with a little bit of Sliver thrown in as well.
The main problem with the movie is that the major plot revelations that begin to unfold in the last section of the film occur too quickly. Up until this point the movie uncoils slowly and methodically, documenting Jackie's journey from a distant obsession to more malevolent and risky behavior. However, the movie then starts to change gears at a fast pace and information spills all over the place. It doesn't work well. The switch from brooding suspense to revenge to forgiveness occurs far too suddenly to have much resonance or credibility. It feels overly melodramatic. For example, the final scene between Jackie and Clyde feels contrived and clumsy. The film is attempting to say something about the bond between parents and children and the deleterious consequences of breaking that bond, but the arrangement here does not carry much emotional weight.
Last, the film contains a graphic sex scene which may repel some viewers.
Red Road is a raw, strongly-acted, and captivating thriller with style to burn. Unfortunately, it is undermined by a derivative story and poorly executed shifts in tone.
The story is guilty of the crimes noted above; however, the actors are free to go.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Tartan Video
• Short Film: "Wasp"
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