Red Road

2007, Movie, NR, 113 mins


Academy Award-winning live-action-short director Andrea Arnold makes a startlingly assured debut with this low-key psychological chiller about a grief-stricken widow who begins stalking the man who destroyed her family.

Dour and depressed, Jackie (the superb Kate Dickie) mans a bank of close-circuit television screens in the control room of City Eye, a Glasgow surveillance program designed to monitor the activities of citizens throughout the city's dodgier neighborhoods. For Jackie, the job usually means watching that now-familiar stranger walking his ailing dog, or checking in on a lonely, overweight woman who works the late shift in an empty office. But one night, while watching the prostitutes who ply their trade along a row of closed-up shops, Jackie's life suddenly changes. Switching from monitor to monitor, she follows a young woman and her client as they sneak into an empty lot behind a garage for a quickie, but Jackie's initial arousal turns to shock when the man briefly turns toward the camera: The john is none other than Clyde Henderson (Tony Curran), the man convicted for the manslaughter deaths of Jackie's husband and young daughter. Clyde was supposed to be locked away for 10 years, but he recently made parole for good behavior, after serving only seven. Furious, Jackie begins using the close-circuit cameras to follow Clyde back to his new home in the towering Red Road housing complex. When they were built in the late 1960s, the Red Road high-rises were the great hope of Glasgow's poor, but they've since gone the way of many such idealistic council housing plans, becoming a crime-ridden home to the city's dispossessed and a number of ex-cons like Clyde. Distracted by Clyde's comings and goings, Jackie's work soon begins to suffer, and with serious consequences: her failure to adequately monitor a brewing gang attack results in the death of a young girl. But Jackie's preoccupation with Clyde isn't merely the obsession of a distraught woman; she's got something special in mind for the man she still blames for the destruction of her family and her life.

Arnold's film is the first result of an interesting new project entitled the Advance Party Concept. The idea is for three different first-time feature directors to develop individual films around a single set of characters devised by Danish filmmakers Lone Scherfig and Anders Thomas Jensen. The three directors are free to center their stories on any of the characters and develop them in any way they see fit, but there are some ground rules: All characters must appear in the film, the films must be set in Scotland, and each production must use the same actors (not surprisingly, the idea was the brainchild of Scherfig, Jensen and their Dogme 95 cohort, Lars von Trier). Despite the collective nature of the concept, Arnold's contribution evinces a distinctive vision: Her coolly dispassionate, entirely harrowing approach mixes gritty realism (she includes one very graphic sex scene that adds several layers of ambiguity to Jackie's complex character) with a grimly understated violence that perfectly suits the subject she's chosen to explore. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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