Wednesday, 1 May 2013

If Lisbeth Salander had a soul sister - Red Road Movie Review

Imagine a woman so extraordinarily inconspicuous that you wouldn't notice her till she spoke to you. That's the kind of person Jackie (Kate Dickie) is. Insular and withdrawn, Red Road's leading protagonist drives action through inaction.

Jackie (Kate Dickie) quietly on the lookout.

Jackie works as a security technician supervising CCTV camera feeds from the streets of Glasgow. The job seems hardly stressful and we see Jackie enjoying it, turning her work into a reality show of sorts. She admires a kind man look after his sick dog. She pities an overweight cleaning lady who brushes windows and has a bad brush with office romance. It's hard not to think that anyone working this job is a voyeur or will soon turn into one. And it somehow complements Jackie, she's more comfortable with watching than with action.

Then, one fine day she notices someone. Her seemingly calm composure is shaken. When she obsessively tracks him down, her worst fears are realised. It's him, alright. 

Wait, who is this guy?

That's another virtue of Red Road. We know something terrible transpired between this strange man and Jackie, but the film takes its own sweet time to tell you about it. Such patient economical storytelling is rare and delightful.

Jackie isn't just content with following the man from behind her desk. She lurks around his house, follows him across streets.  As for Clyde, the man in question, he barely notices. He's fresh out of prison and played by Tony Curran with a certain rakish edge. Clyde fancies himself as a silver-tongued ladies' man, which is de facto due to the current low-life company he keeps.

We know that Clyde wronged Jackie, but instead of fearing him we see Jackie befriending him.

To Jackie, Clyde is like cancer.

Yet she is intrigued by him. Not attracted, but drawn to him. When he compliments her, something stirs inside her. Mind you, this is a woman who seems to be making grocery lists while having sex. When Clyde's compliments seemingly go down well, you wonder if they were lovers in the past? Did he break her heart? Or worse, did he sexually violate her?

The brilliant Kate Dickie as Jackie with Clyde. Also, there's a lot of Neon
in the film, which has become a staple of gritty realistic films.

Despite the fact that being with Clyde makes her retch, and she actually does puke after their first meet, she goes ahead and has sex with him. The sex itself is explicit, raw and nearly as messy and unchoreographed as it is in real life. This ain't no stylised PG-13 rom com romp. What's worth noticing here is that we finally see Jackie come alive. She is, pardon the expression, in the moment.

And then the rug is pulled out from under as we learn Jackie's real motives. What she does forms the crux of the story and the revelation will surely blindside you. Yet you will see Jackie with more admiration and empathy.

The film switches gears from the sex scene, which is nothing like anything you've seen before. The grim  resolve shown by Jackie here is only mirrored by Lisbeth Salander from the famous 'The Millennium Trilogy'. In 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo', when her government appointed guardian blackmails her and rapes her, she unleashes a fury upon him that could have been the subject for a feature film itself. In both these films, we see women using their beauty not as a mere trait, but as a potent weapon. Is it moral? Not really. Is it misogynist? Passively.

Is it showing female protagonists in a light you've never seen before? Absolutely.

Another great attribute about 'Red Road' is how impartially it views its characters. Jackie shouldn't even be using her CCTV access for stalking Clyde. And you would certainly be crept out by how easy it is for her to track Clyde down. The government's watching every step you take and Andrea Arnold suffuses  this big 'Big Brother' theme with utmost subtlety.

The film is bereft of any background score and uses strong gusts of wind to an ominous effect. Even the landscape seen here makes Glasgow look like a wasteland and the characters inhabiting it look just as weary. I am not saying they look everyman, they look worse than the everyman. The harsh terrain is meant to mirror Jackie's inner state of mind and does no favours to the Glasgow tourism department.

Eventually the drab colours brighten, the harsh gust mellows. There's relief for Jackie. Blue skies with a gentle breeze. There' s even a new dog for the man she used to watch before. 'Winds of change' you might call it. And Red Road, which makes for the first part of a Dogme 95 based trilogy is just that.

Jackie 'moves' towards something at the end, whereas when the
film starts, she is 'idly sitting' in her chair. A nice touch.
PS: If you find the amazing Kate Dickie familiar, it's because you have seen her in Ridley Scott's Prometheus.
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