There's something about David Peace's novels that, no matter how dark and disturbing they may be, the reader feels the quest for the truth, the hope for some vengence, deeply enough to read on. I was hoping that same intense attitude would be present in Red Riding: 1974, the film adaptation of Peace's Red Riding quartet; luckily I was only slightly disappointed.
Red Riding: 1974 is the story of Edward Dunford (Andrew Garfield), a young journalist, with little but the desire for a by-line and a warm bed to lie in, preferably not alone. He's determined, intelligent, and despite himself, is actually one of the "good guys". Assigned to cover the story of missing schoolgirl Claire Kemplay, Dunford finds out the truth is the last thing to make it into the papers. As things spiral out of control, it's clear that in the North of England, happy endings are fairy tales and corruption is the law of the day.
As a film, this one will stand up on its own. Garfield, recently seen in the Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, embodies the Dunford of the novel. He's handsome and clever, self-assured and volatile all at the same time. He's authentic and emotional with all the flaws of a human, and with the film standing squarely on Eddie Dunford's character, Garfield delivers an intense and believable performance. The cinematography is also a work of art, with the lighting and the smoke, the close-ups and some beautifully framed shots creating an increasingly claustrophobic feel, up to the end. There's a yellowness and a grayness about the color palette that lends itself to the feeling of the seedy underbelly of the 1970s.
It moves at a good pace and while silences seem to be put in place of some of Dunford's written stream-of-conscience, the plot is certainly less convoluted than the novel; and herein lies my EXTREMELY minor disappointment.
I will once again acknowledge that it's always tough to adapt a novel; and I understand that there is no way to include everything from a book into a film. Making it all the more difficult, Peace's novel is not an easy read. It's full of repeating poetry and single sentences that get stuck in the reader's head and brought back by the narrator. It's like taking a trip through your own mind, as well as Dunford's. In fact, watching the film made me question whether I had understood the ending completely, or if I had missed something.
It turns out, I hadn't missed or forgotten anything, it was just some of the changes made in the transfer seem somewhat essential. The ending of the novel is engaging and nail-biting and filled with characters who litter the barren wasteland of Yorkshire. Unfortunately, the film has cut some of those characters, revealing only a thinner, less interesting world. Again, this is only in comparison to the novel. Where Peace's novel ends with a maze run in the dark of night, the film ends with a pretty straight shot in the middle of the day, leaving me feeling just slightly less satisfied than with the novel. Also, with the violence and brutality in the novel, I was certainly prepared for much worse than I saw onscreen. For better, or for worse, there's something a bit sanitized in the film adaptation. For me, it's best to look at this story, in these two mediums, as companion pieces. While the film might help to simplify, the novel has the real blood and guts, literally, of the story.
For the film, overall 4 out of 5 for covering its bases and being a well-plotted movie with great performances, but for ultimately taking the easy way out.