Red Road
Tartan Video // Unrated // $22.95 // August 28, 2007
Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted October 11, 2007
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Graphical Version
There's a reason that we as humans shouldn't individually play judge, jury, and executioner for villains. Through the looking glass of surveillance video, the compulsion to physically dabble in the wrongdoings of humanity can begin to seem quite logical, though. Red Road, the Scottish suspense film from director Andrea Arnold, displays the reasons why individual humans are separate from such acts. Through this tense and difficult story, we see the causal bridge between oversight and action fall apart through the eyes of one woman bent on wreaking vengeance.

The Film:

Much of Red Road takes action in a 24-hour surveillance control room (CCTV) monitoring the rougher parts of urban Scotland. Jackie (Kate Dickie) gently guides numerous camera lenses from person to person, reporting any malicious behavior as it seems fit. Outside of this seemingly mundane job, she keeps a rather solemn pace with her life, breaking speed solely with the sporadic sexual rendezvous she has with a detached colleague. Her life is empty, filled only with musings clustered together from the artificial relationships she builds with her regularly watched targets.

Someone dangerous pops into her sight one day - someone familiar. A known criminal catches her attention, one that should still be in jail. Jackie scrambles to discover why he's been released, what business he has back in the world, and several other furiously convoluted questions, both exposed and concealed, buzzing in her mind. After trailing his footsteps on camera for a few days, she takes it upon herself to break down the wall of monitors between them and trace his actions on foot. She hopes to catch him in some compromising position that would land him back behind bars, yet she doesn't know the lengths she must go to catch such a heroic break. Furthermore, gauging by her drive to find out all she can about this man, it seems that something more than a compelling desire to capture justice presses Jackie forward to face this man.

Red Road flushes the screen with minimal setup, but it deceives us with its simplicity. At first, we experience claustrophobia over Jackie's brooding shoulder in the monitor room as we mundanely scan alleyways and train depots. It's a bizarre feeling considering that we're capable of glancing at an infinite sprawl of Scottish streets. At first, her fluttering tension and noble heart seem controllable, muted even to such a degree that she wouldn't dare muster the gall to waltz these streets with revenge in her heart. That's why she's manning the monitors instead of barreling forward with nightstick and handcuffs. But there's more to this gloomy, desperate woman than first assumed.

Jackie stays our spotlight for the entirety of the film, and Kate Dickie makes certain to hold our concentration for the extent of the film with a focused, resolute delivery. Her timid demeanor and dark, unnerving gazes reflect a sense of internalized activity that we can only assume for ourselves. Part of the challenge behind Red Road is firing our brains up early with these prompts in search for reason. Once such impulses start to take rough shape in our minds, we try and place empathy within Jackie's awkward, shadowy presence. Her complexity makes it possible, but only with uneasy investment.

As Jackie walks across that bridge from active observer to reprisal seeker in Red Road, she timidly takes the punitive decisions of society into her own control. In a way, she grasps this rush to obtain full retribution as a way of righting where society wrongs. However, her resolve doesn't flow quite as imagined once she slips into the wild. Instead of the sternly epitomic demeanor we'd envision from her character, she surprises us with her obscure curiosity and disparate yearning for another life. What's puzzling is the fact that she chooses this particular guy, as opposed to several other gruff troublemakers caught on tape, as the focus for her idyllic rage.

Once she starts to act out her dangerous ploys, and her warped motives float to the surface, Red Road takes an equally twisted shift in tone and brevity. Instead of the cold, cramped atmosphere we as observers have grown accustomed to, Jackie leads us through those brash and fuming streets only shown to us through monitors. There's a certain taboo warzone mechanic at play with the Scottish streets in the film, and our heroine gingerly glides through the confines with an ambiguous objective in hindsight. Normal locales, like bars and twenty-something parties, feel a lot less commonplace and more like the act of gracefully tip-toeing through a wolf's den in fear of awakening the pack.

It's through this crossover both in setting and in Jackie's mentality that Red Road shifts from a static, slow-burning complexity to a flushing fury of nerves. Several barriers faze into an indiscernible blur through this acceleration, such as the line between purist and pariah. Moreover, once we reach this point, Red Road transforms from a reserved thriller with several secrets locked within its narrative to a revelatory severance of the nerves that becomes achingly difficult to watch. Though it continues to engulf with its compelling narrative, our comfort zone is tested with several graphic imprints that earn the film's material warnings.

Imposing as these depictions are in this scenario, their raw illuminating nature seems strangely satisfying once all is said and done in Red Road. Expecting an easy resolution would be pointless inside a film with such a psychologically complex, yet textually simple, nature. Even after we're sent spiraling into a chaotic whirlwind, this film still delivers enough compellingly painful exuberance that we wish to stick around for resolution. Andrea Arnold's film throttles through an enraged gauntlet of emotions infused with an exhilarating plot that I'm not likely to forget anytime soon.

The DVD:

Tartan Video presents Red Road in a standard keepcase package with colorful coverart, replicated discart, and a nice foldout insert.

Technical Notice: This copy of Red Road suffered a nasty freeze glitch at around the 1:09 to 1:10 mark (directly after Jackie orders her drink at a pub). It's a speedbump of around 3 seconds, so it was a skippable, negligible point that didn't deter from the narrative during this review. Whether this is an isolated incident, I can't be certain.

The Video:

Tartan's 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer of Red Road isn't the most exciting visual presentation out there, but the cold cinematography, vision close-quartered images, and grainy "television screen" stamps onto the screen pretty well. There's a bit of pixilation in a few solid red scenes, as is a shade of halo effect outlining elements here and there. Detail isn't terribly strong, as the film holds a fairly blurry disposition throughout. However, aside from these few minor blemishes and a few aliasing issues, the harsh visuals and sporadic splashes of deep color flush our vision nicely.

The Audio:

Here's where Red Road gets a little trickier in the technical department. Outside of the control room, everything sounds peachy through the DTS (and Dolby Digital) 5.1 tracks. Vocal strength and sparse sound effects like the tap of glasses on wood sound just fine. One thing to bear in mind is that, even through the film is in the English language, the thick Scottish accents might require subtitles for reference. Many points are perfectly fine to the ears, but some lines are so quick and rich with the accent that having the language track below in textual form helps out a lot. Now, here's the issue with the presentation: whenever we're in the video room, we get a lot of that typical television high-pitched feedback due to the large clustering of screens. It's possibly an unavoidably grating blemish, but nonetheless it caused my hair to rise up here and there. It's present in both presentations, but actually comes through with more strength in the DTS track. Outside of this issue, everything is very solid. Subtitles are available in English and Spanish.

The Extras:

Here's a selling point for this DVD alone. Available on this presentation is Andrea Arnold's Oscar-winning short film, Wasp. It's around 25 minutes and delivers a similarly gruff narrative amidst familial strife that should appeal to fans of Red Road as well.

Specific to Red Road, we're working with a Theatrical Trailer and Photo Gallery alone. A slew of previews for other Tartan Video films is also available.


Final Thoughts:

All glitches assumedly ironed out with subsequent pressings, Red Road is a tense, electric thriller thoroughly recommended for the brimming strengths from its lead. Gauging by the repetition of thought I've experienced with this film since my screening, I'd be willing to say that Red Road comes with a solid Recommended grade. Be forewarned that the material is very difficult, both sexually and psychologically; however, the performances and the uncomfortable tension brimming from its narrative warrant at least a few viewings.

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