Red Riding: 1983 (2009)

aka Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1983

2009 #52
Anand Tucker | 100 mins | TV (HD) | 15

Red Riding: 1983The Red Riding Trilogy draws to a close with its finest instalment, a superior work in just about every respect.

From the off, 1983 returns to the story of the previous films, showing events from different perspectives. It’s dominated by a new story — the search for a child kidnapper in the titular year — but even this harks back to the past, the actual kidnapping closely resembling the one that kick-started 1974. Indeed, it’s 1974 that’s primarily drawn upon, confirming 1980 as little more than an aside in the scope of the trilogy.

1983 doesn’t just reiterate, however, but builds on previously-seen events and characters, both overtly — showing the police investigation into Clare Kemplay, which was the story of 1974 — and more subtly — Hunter’s apparent sidekick being present at secret meetings of the Evil Policemen in 1974. Despite clear links to the past, 1983 may also work well enough on its own. It’s undeniable that there’s more depth when viewed in light of the first two films, but most (perhaps all) of it would be comprehensible simply from what’s presented here.

Tucker’s film bests its predecessors in almost every assessable value. The story and characters have more genuine surprises and suspense than ever, while the performances are at the very least the equal of what’s gone before. Unlike the other two films, where the corrupt cops were little more than cartoon villains despite claims to the contrary, 1983 makes their brutality really felt; here, for the first time in the trilogy, their disregard for the law and their vicious methods made me feel sickened and angry, just as they should.

But best of all is the stunning sepia-tinged cinematography, which uses the popular RED cameras to amazing effect. The instances of beauty are too numerous to mention, from obvious moments such as the final scenes of white feathers drifting in slow motion through shards of sunlight as part of a heroic closing image (even if one finds it tonally incongruous, which some surely will, it looks gorgeous), to low-key scenes like Jobson lost in contemplation, the sepia-toned foreground standing out from the blues of the background. The omnipresence of lens flare, an idea that was so annoying when liberally sprinkled across Star Trek, seems to work perfectly here. Perhaps it’s due to consistency: every light source seems to cast streaks across the frame, not just the occasional flourish. The trilogy isn’t yet available on Blu-ray, but for some of the images in this film alone it really should be.

Sadly, 1983 still isn’t perfect. Many plot threads are tied off, or we can infer our own explanations for the missing bits, but significant others are left hanging, not least what happened to the numerous corrupt police officers. We don’t necessarily need to see them come to justice — though that might be nice, obviously — or even a summary of the rest of their life, but some nod of a conclusion to their stories would be appreciated. Elsewhere, BJ’s narration is slightly twee, which is a shame because his story is both compelling and one of very few that is actually told across all three films, even though he’s barely noticed at first, rather than just starring in one and cameoing in the others.

I enjoyed 1983 immensely, much more so than either of the preceding films, so it’s only minor flaws like these that hold it back from full marks.

4 out of 5