If You See Only One Bleak 5-Hour British Crime Drama This Year, Make It The Red Riding Trilogy
For an event that programs seemingly every film slipped over its office transom, the Toronto Film Festival has a conspicuous vacuum growing a little more severe by the hour: The British crime thriller The Red Riding Trilogy found a distributor last spring in Cannes and the makings of a massive cult following last weekend in Telluride, but no love from the Canadians who left the triptych off its voluminous list of What Matters This Fall. Surely the 302-minute running time -- and unabating bleakness -- couldn't have deterred them?
Or it could just be that they're not especially new. The three installments -- 1974, 1980, and 1983 (directed by Julian Jarrold, James Marsh and Anand Tucker, respectively) -- all originated on British television in March, landing on DVD soon afterward after mild critical notice and underachieving ratings. But the series, based on David Peace's quartet of books detailing police corruption and various other failings around the time of the notorious Yorkshire Ripper serial killer, was new enough to IFC Films, which snapped the films up for DVD and VOD in May at the Cannes Film Festival.
But like IFC's Che gamble last year, the distributor planned a few momentous, one-sitting theatrical experiences to see what kind of buzz it could stimulate. The result: A lot, as evidenced by the praise coruscating out of the Telluride Film Festival in recent days. (It didn't hurt that critic and programmer David Thomson apparently deemed it superior to The Godfather.) Variety got the first blast in before the fest began, followed by The Hollywood Reporter ("[We] found ourselves shot-gunned to our seat by the film's grim view of the snaking corruption in a small West Yorkshire town," Steven Zeitchik wrote of Jarrold's installment. "It's as good as anything currently in American theaters") and Cinematical ("the greatest thing I've seen since I discovered the first season of Twin Peaks on DVD"). A fest mole later pinged Jeffrey Wells to tell him that the buzz was accurate, even as the film's pervasively dark, cynical and gruesome turns into human nature had knocked off half the viewers by the time the lights came up for good five hours later.
Maybe those were just the folks who were turned off by the "unbearable British dialogue" in Jarrold's entry (which IFC has subtitled) or by the sweeping hype of the whole enterprise. "[T]he overlying saga ultimately falls a bit flat regardless due to a sense of derivation and contrivance," offered another critic, adding, "Tucker's Red Riding 1983, which pulls the story's many threads together, is somewhat forgettable from frame one." (Hey, well The Godfather III had its problems, too; at least they're consistent.)
Still, apart from perhaps the universally lauded Up in the Air, and quite possibly by accident, we've got what sounds like our first must-see of the season. IFC plans more Che-esque tricks for this, including a special one-off screening at this year's New York Film Festival and, presumably, "road show"-style engagements in a handful of markets en route to video. More news here as it's available, as well as a review at our first opportunity. We hate missing out on the fun, bleak or otherwise.