Movie Review: Red Road

Winner of the Cannes Jury Prize in 2006, “Red Road” is the first of the three planned “Advance Party” films.  Directed by Andrea Arnold, the feature length film follows her Best Short Film, Live Action Oscar winning “Wasp” (2003). 

Garnering more than a dozen other awards, “Wasp” set Arnold up as one of three directors chosen to participate in the Glasgow Film Office – Lars von Trier Advance Party character concept series.  The series features nine characters that appear in all three of the films.  Each of the three films must use each character in a different way and there is no relationship between changes that take place in the characters from film to film.  Although the characters, with basic back stories, remain the same, their roles and impacts in moving the story forward also change in each film.

“Red Road” features four of the nine characters in primary and supporting roles. The four fixed characters are Jackie, the traumatized woman who has lost her brother, husband and child, Clyde, the ex-convict with deep seated anger, April, the shy newcomer without a place and Stevie, Clyde’s roommate and fellow ex-con.

In this film Jackie is a police auxiliary worker who operates and documents the recordings of dozens of security cameras that keep watch on a particularly dangerous part of the city of Glasgow. 

True to her back story she is emotionally numb, her contact with the outside world reduced to the electronically sterilized observation that is her job.  She is worried about Clyde, to whom we are introduced through the dehumanized images of the security monitors.  As Jackie watches her monitors, she becomes increasingly obsessed with the ex-con who has received an early release from prison and moved back to the neighborhood.  Her initially mysterious intentions become increasingly clear as she stalks Clyde, until the final confrontation between the two.

Arnold’s screenplay merges Jackie’s point of view with that of the audience.  As we learn more about Jackie and Clyde, more of the filming takes place outside of the cavernous security center and the reality of the outside world takes the place of Jackie’s constructed inside world.

As Jackie nears her emotional breakthrough, the setting changes to take place first in the neighborhood and then in Clyde’s apartment.  Robbie Ryan’s cinematography is great; from the grainy, heartless and ethereal icons in the monitor chamber to the trash-strewn streets of Glasgow where people shuffle about looking for the next soft spot in the environment.

Beyond the Advance Party dogma, the film evolves as an excellently produced mystery thriller.  More than just a filmic experiment for new directors, it is a genuinely absorbing drama that probes disturbing questions about self-alienation, self-delusion and the perpetrator/victim paradox.  The audience is challenged to determine who has the upper hand, who is threatened and who wins in the end.

Kate Dickie and Tony Curran play the leads in the film, both having garnered BAFTA Best Actress/Actor awards for their parts.  Nathalie Press plays April, rejoining Arnold after her lead role as Zoë in the Oscar winning “Wasp.”  Martin Compston plays Stevie, Clyde’s room mate, in the wake of his having won the BAFTA Scotland Best Actor award for his lead role in Ken Loach’s classic “Sweet Sixteen” while finishing high school.  According to the Advance Party rules, these same performers will appear in the same parts of all of the films.

The characters  in the Advance Party films were developed by Anders Thomas Jensen (Oscar Best Short Film, Live Action—“Valgaften” (1998) ) and Lone Scherfig (“Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself” and “Italian for Beginners”).

Although threatening at times to dissolve into film school, “Red Road” paces the tension nicely until the riveting final scenes.  The end result is a finely crafted thriller without fluff and pretension. The lead performance by Kate Dickie is understated, which may cost the film some US box office, but Dickie is excellent. 

There are several sexually explicit scenes that probably led to the MPAA “Unrated” sticker. A truly independent film featuring a cast and crew we will hear from for years to come.

Red Road

Directed by Andrea Arnold
Written by Andrea Arnold, Anders Thomas Jensen and Lone Scherfig
Starring: Kate Dickie and Tony Curran
Runtime: 113 minutes
Country: UK / Denmark

Opens: April 13, 2007.  MPAA: Not Rated