Monday, March 22, 2010

My, what big teeth you have

This past weekend my best pal Norman and I took three separate trips out to the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood to catch the Red Riding trilogy. I can't even remember now how we found out about the films. Maybe we just spotted them in the Egyptian's newsletter, or maybe Norman read or heard something about them somewhere -- he has a knack for running across interesting and unusual things.

The three movies are based on four novels by David Peace. They take place in 1974, 1980, and 1983. They were originally made for the BBC last year, but they work marvelously as theatrical features. One guy wrote all of the screenplays, and each film was directed by a different fellow. The second film was my favorite, and much like the second film in noteworthy trilogies (The Empire Strikes Back, Back to the Future II), it makes little sense if you haven't seen the first film and don't plan to see the third. Fortunately, Norman and I were game for all three.

It's hard to describe these movies without giving too much away. The story is inspired by the Yorkshire Ripper murders that occurred in England during the mid 1970s to 1980, but the murders are really just a jumping-off point. In fact, the first movie takes place before the first Ripper murders occurred and deals with the disappearances of three young girls who turn out not to have anything to do with the Yorkshire Ripper. The Ripper killings are prominent in the second film, and the third film ties the first two together. What all three are about is political and police corruption, as well as secrets that cannot remain buried forever.

Each of the movies presents the story in a different way, reflecting, I suppose, each director's take on things. The first movie seems more impressionistic than the others, but that may be because so much information has to be introduced that won't actually be dealt with until the later films. Here, the hero is a young crime reporter who sees a link between the little girls who have gone missing; his investigation leads him to something far different than he had expected, and he becomes a pawn in a complex web of corruption. In the second film, an outsider, a detective from Manchester, is brought into the investigation and he, too, finds himself in danger when he grows to suspect that one of the Yorkshire Ripper murders is actually a copycat killing. There are several central characters in the final movie, all approaching the case of the still-missing girls from different angles. (The Yorkshire Ripper has been jailed by this point.) The third film does a masterful job of tying the earlier movies together and filling in a number of gaps in viewers' knowledge about exactly what has taken place.

Is that enticing yet vague enough for you? Chances are you won't get a chance to see these movies in a theatre, but they're available from Netflix. If you're a fan of neo-noir or well-crafted police procedurals, I urge you to seek them out.

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