Dir. Andrea Arnold, UK, 2006, 117 mins
Cast: Kate Dickie, Tony Curran, Martin Compston, Nathalie Press
Review by Joyce Dundas
This is the first film in a new Dogma movement called Advance Party. The rules are simple, as you would expect from the Dogma filmmakers: the films must be made in digital format, take place in Scotland, shot within six weeks, and within a £1m budget. The rules now also seem to include three directors using the same characters in different stories. If Red Road is a sample of things to come, these will be extremely interesting films.
Red Road is Arnold's first feature. She did of course win the Academy Award for her 2003 short Wasp and many have been waiting for this first full-length narrative. She does not disappoint.
This is a complicated and very emotional film that takes a bit of concentration from the audience to stay with the story, but it is worth that effort. The story is told as a constant reveal and it demands the intelligence that audiences in the noughties can bring to it. Word of mouth, or more superficially of the oral sex scene, will make sure this film secures an large audience for what usually would be defined as an art film.
Jackie (Dickie) is a CCTV monitor, one of those jobs we know exists, but have no idea who would do it. She watches without becoming personally involved for the most part, phoning the police if she witnesses a crime or other emergency services if needed. One day she sees a face that forces her to become personally involved and she can no longer remain the anonymous voyeur. The path that she takes to extract her revenge on this man is the heart of the film. Dickie's acting carries you along with Jackie to the closure they all need. It is an incredibly understated and well-crafted performance.
It is equalled by Curran's villain/victim turn as Clyde – another iconic Glaswegian name – who is a man fighting the inner demons caused by the terrible event he is trying desperately to leave in his past.
If there is one small criticism of the film it is the stereotyping of the people who are supposed to live in the 'skyscraper' apartment blocks known as the 'Red Road Flats'. Do people in a rundown areas actually leave dog food on the kitchen flooring for their pets or wear snorkel parkas? And there is no mention of what that area is actually most famous for now – as the final destination of any asylum seekers who are rehoused in Glasgow. But these might be complaints made only by the residents of that city and might even be tackled by future Advance Party films.
There is a memorable scene when Jackie feels alive for the first time in many months as she stands at an open window feeling that stiff Scottish wind blow through the open window on a high floor of those much-maligned skyscrapers. This film is just such a gasp of fresh air.