Red Road is the debut feature from talented writer and director Andrea Arnold. This drama with elements of thriller won the Grand Jury prize at Cannes last year and tells the tale of a CCTV operator in Glasgow. This is a sharply realistic and somewhat claustrophobic film with a strong voyeuristic streak.
Jackie is a CCTV operator who spends hours at a big console watching the streets of Glasgow. She seems to have a lonely and somewhat miserable existence which hints at a murky past. She sits night after night keeping vigilant watch and dispatching police whenever necessary. She also has a relationship of sorts with a married man which seems to be an emotionless arrangement to meet every couple of weeks and have sex in his van. One night she spots a man she recognises and her life takes on a new purpose as she begins to stalk the man contriving to meet him.
Clyde is the man in question, a dodgy womaniser who lives in one of the Red Road flats with his mate Stevie and Stevie´s girlfriend April. Jackie insinuates herself into their lives and begins playing a dangerous game which seems unlikely to end well for any of them.
Red Road is a slow paced film with a strong sense of detachment. We voyeuristically watch Jackie as she in turn observes the inhabitants of the city as they go about their lives none the wiser. We are left guessing as to her motives for most of the film and so the suspense grows as events flow toward a revelatory ending. The dialogue is fairly sparse and feels authentic.
The direction is captivating though the poverty stricken Glasgow backdrop is all too familiar. Arnold favours the realistic approach so there are no sound effects or fancy lighting to distract from you from the action and this technique is very effective.
The cast are excellent with Kate Dickie playing Jackie, Tony Curran as Clyde and Martin Compston as Stevie. They are all effortlessly convincing and make the best of the sparse script to bring their characters to life. Each of the characters themselves is well thought out and they all have some depth to them. The character development is unforced and very believable.
Red Road is just under two hours long and the pacing is deliberately slow. This is effective in the early part of the film, but as the thriller elements are introduced the pace could maybe do with picking up a bit.
It is nice to see a film set in Scotland with a Scottish cast but as I joked to my wife before watching it - this is bound to be heavy and depressing as these are the only types of films that seem to get funded in Scotland - and sure enough it is set in a poverty stricken run down area and is emotionally traumatic. I´d love to see a modern Scottish film like Restless Natives or Gregory´s Girl for a change.
Having said all that for what it is Red Road is very well made and kept me glued to the screen and guessing all the way to the end. It is quite sexually graphic in places and harrowing to watch but the characters are emotionally engaging and this is an intelligent piece of filmmaking.