An exceptional journey on 'Red Road'

Director Andrea Arnold makes it clear that Glasgow is a crime-ridden city and that the cameras are used to try to prevent crimes.

red road 298.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
red road 298.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
RED ROAD **** Drama/thriller (113 min.) Hebrew title: Derech Aduma. In English, with Hebrew titles. Few films manage to create a world of their own with the intensity of Red Road. Andrea Arnold's movie is dark, upsetting and at times grim, but also beautiful and moving. A low-budget, independent Scottish film that won the Jury Prize at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, it examines the daily life of Jackie (Kate Dickey), a woman who monitors closed-circuit security televisions in Glasgow. It's a movie about what it means to observe and be observed, as well as a look at urban alienation and working-class life in Scotland. But most important, it's about a woman who seems, at the beginning, frozen and unspeakably sad, but who finally finds the strength to act when, working one night, she sees a malevolent figure from her past on one of the screens. There are echoes here of the 1966 Antonioni film in which a fashion photographer inadvertently records a murder, Blow-Up, but the dark, dilapidated and graffiti-covered contemporary Glasgow streets are worlds away from the chic atmosphere of Sixties London. The filmmaker's point of view is very different as well. While Antonioni portrayed a decadent and corrupt society, Arnold's characters are struggling just to survive, but also trying to make contact. Unlike the anti-hero of Blowup, Jackie suffers not because she cares too little but because she feels too much and has to numb herself to keep functioning. Jackie, who wears a wedding ring but lives alone, has a secret we don't learn until far along in the plot. But the secret isn't as important as the persona that actress Kate Dickey creates, of a lonely woman who is trying to find some way to stay interested in life. To break the monotony of her job, she tracks the progress of her favorite passersby. It's charming and funny to note her affection for the ailing dog whose owner takes him on the same walk every night. She's lost touch with her friends, but she smiles affectionately when she watches a chubby young woman dancing like Madonna while she cleans offices at night. Once every few weeks she gets together with a married co-worker for loveless sex, but otherwise spends her free time alone. When she sees Clyde (Tony Curran), a thuggish, menacing man who was just released from jail, it's clear that some kind of mysterious endgame has begun for her. Without saying why, she begins to hang around with Clyde and his friends, a group of petty criminals, who may not have hearts of gold but turn out to be quite different from how they first appear. As the narrative becomes more conventional, even, at times, bordering on melodrama, the skill of the performances by the entire cast, but particularly by Dickey and Curran, maintain the intensity that Arnold has painstakingly built up from the beginning. Red Road is the first film by a member of the Advance Party group, filmmakers inspired by Danish director Lars von Trier and his Dogma 95 naturalistic films movement. All Advance Party films will feature characters created by Anders Thomas Jensen and Lone Scherfig (as Red Road does) and will be set in Glasgow. Several other Advance Party films are in the planning stages and will be financed, as Red Road was, by the Glasgow Film Office. But unlike von Trier, Arnold is more interested in her characters' humanity than in making any political point about state surveillance or capitalism. She makes it clear that Glasgow is a crime-ridden city and that the cameras are used to try to prevent crimes. At one point, Jackie alerts police to a stabbing in progress and a character later reports that if the victim had not reached the hospital so quickly, she would definitely have died. The security cameras are shown to be a fact of life, and Reynolds simply examines what it means for a very lonely person to spend her working life staring at screens full of people. Reynolds manages to find a stark beauty in the banks of screens and even focuses on moments of grace in the grimy streets below. A word about the accents: If you're not from Scotland and can't read Hebrew titles, you may have a hard time understanding the dialogue, particularly at the beginning. It wasn't till the film was about halfway over before I stopped reading the titles and just started listening. Many films from Scotland are shown in the US with English titles and when you see Red Road, you'll understand why. The ending of the film may seem a bit too pat, but I think it's Arnold's way of lifting Red Road out of the "Prozac films" genre. It's not one of those movies that are so depressing that you can barely crawl out of your seat at the end. There are moments when Jackie's actions seem bizarre and improbable, but eventually everything makes sense. Most movies, even if they are enjoyable, are quickly forgotten. The opposite is true for Red Road. In the week since I've seen it, I have thought about it more and more. Its emotional impact and the originality and skill of its execution linger long after the closing credits. Arnold, who won an Oscar four years ago for Wasp, a short film, is a major talent.