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Red Road (2006): Surveillance

Red Road (Andrea Arnold, 2006)

Jackie, shadowed, in the foreground against one of the buildings of Red Road on the movie poster.

Big Sister is watching.
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On one hand, Red Road—a movie about a woman who becomes obsessed with revenge and goes undercover to deliver some vigilante justice—is a film you’ve seen a thousand times. On the other hand, while there isn’t anything in here you haven’t seen before, it’s the way in which Andrea Arnold puts all the pieces together that make it feel like it is, at least in part, something you have never seen before. That is the tightrope makers of genre film walk, and Arnold—helped along in her pursuit by some very big names—walks it pretty well. The end result is not perfect by any means, but given a director working on her first feature and having a lot to measure up to, Red Road is better than it has any right to be.

Jackie rides up in a Red Road elevator with two of the inhabitants in a still from the film.

“I think I have a pen round here somewhere…”
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Plot: Jackie (Outcast‘s Kate Dickie) is a security guard whose entire job involves watching CCTV cameras trained on the Red Road housing estate in Glasgow. She is the quintessential character with no life outside her job, and eventually we realize why when she spies a familiar face on one of her cameras. This is someone who should not be where he is at the time he is, and Jackie soon becomes obsessed with getting revenge for a long-ago act that shattered her life.

Jackie sits in front of a bank of monitors in a still from the film.

500 channels and nothing on.
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Those names I mentioned? This is the first of a series of three films (the second is Morag McKinnon’s 2010 effort Donkeys) proposed by Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier (Antichrist) and featuring characters created by fellow Danes Lone Scherfig (Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself) and Anders Thomas Jensen (The Green Butchers). In America, that’s kind of the equivalent of Steven Spielberg calling you up and saying “hey, I’ve got this collection of characters who were created by Jon Jost and Ricardo Islas, and I want you and two of your buddies to write scripts around them.” How much pressure would you be feeling? Still, while Arnold is building tension, this movie works quite well. It is a quiet thriller, but it is a thriller nonetheless, and there is a great deal to be said for Arnold’s script spending time to establish the parallel between Jackie becoming obsessed with her prey and getting less socially awkward around others. Where things fall apart is when the action begins in the third act. Obviously it would be difficult to talk about how things go down without spoiler alerts, but it felt to me like a bait-and-switch. Arnold has set us up to be expecting one kind of movie and we ended up getting another. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is likely to put some viewers off. With me, the jury is still out. I liked it, albeit cautiously, and I would recommend you take a look. Go into it without expectations and you may find yourself pleasantly surprised. ** ½

The full film on Youtube.

About Robert "Goat" Beveridge

Media critic (amateur, semi-pro, and for one brief shining moment in 2000 pro) since 1986. Guy behind noise/powerelectronics band XTerminal (after many small stints in jazz, rock, and metal bands). Known for being tactless but honest.

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