I spy with my little eyes, lots and lots of smelly people.
Jackie (Kate Dickie) spends her days monitoring a series of surveillance cameras trained on a rough Glasgow neighborhood. While it’s no stellar job, it’s one that she finds enjoyable enough to where she doesn’t have to do much except keep her eye out on any sort of chicanery or misdoings. And in this neighborhood that she has to constantly check out, there’s a lot of that going. One fateful day, however, while she’s roaming around on her video-cameras, she spots Clyde (Tony Curran) on one of the screens, somebody she doesn’t seem to know much of anything about, yet, for some reason, she becomes incredibly obsessed with him. With what originally starts out as her video-stalking him, soon turns into her following him around on the streets, talking to his friends and getting involved with his life. It’s odd, but Jackie has a reason for all of this and eventually, it’s all going to come out in unsettling ways.
What’s interesting about Andrea Arnold’s movies is that none of them ever seem to be “thrillers” in the literal sense, but for some reason, they turn out to be just that. Eventually, we get so wrapped-up in these characters, their lives, and their stories, that eventually, it’s hard not to be gripped by each and everything that they do, or don’t do. And with Red Road, that is especially true – while the movie is, plain and simply, a dark, gritty and slow-burning character-study, there’s still suspense and an air of mystery in it that makes it so much more.
But at the same time, it’s still an expertly-done character-study that, without the talents of Andrea Arnold, probably wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting.
While Arnold is in the perfect position to make Red Road some statement about surveillance, government’s reliance on it, and how normal, everyday citizens are literally paranoid every second of their lives because of this fact, she instead decides to just keep her focus as low and as tight as possible. This isn’t a tale about the government, police, or even surveillance – it’s about the freedom that this sort of technology can provide for someone, who is exactly like Jackie and in need of some sort of closure, or different path to go down with her life. The movie never makes it out like technology is this evil, or this great thing, it just shows that it’s a thing that can change a lot of people’s lives, while also making everyone seem closer to one another, even if they truly aren’t.
Once again though, this isn’t some sort of message movie. Arnold is smarter than that and knows that the ingredient to making a solid little character-study is to give us someone worth watching and caring about, even if we don’t know everything there is to know about her. Jackie’s a bit of an odd protagonist, but she’s one who constantly shows more shadings as the movie runs on by, with Kate Dickie pulling off a great performance, one that shows the subtle range we’re not too used to seeing from her in bigger showings like in the VVitch, or on Game of Thrones. Jackie is an intriguing character, but Dickie finds certain ways to make us understand a little bit more about her, through her interactions with those around her, as well the plain, but troubled looks on her face.
Of course, there’s more to Jackie as we soon learn and this is where Red Road starts to fall down a bit.
What started as an interesting character-drama, soon turns into something of a melodramtic thriller that, yes, once again, may not be a “thriller”, in any sense, but has those same sort of qualities and attitudes that make it fit in with that genre. Arnold seems interested in having us know why Jackie is doing what she is doing and tying it all together in one, neat little bow, but honestly, it almost feels like it didn’t need to come to that. The movie makes it out as if Jackie’s decision wasn’t random, but expected, through certain twists, turns, and reveals that come to fruition at the end.
Are the twists and turns shocking? Yeah, they actually are. However, they also make Red Road feel like a different entire movie. What was one a small, understated character-drama about this Jackie lady and her quest into the dark regions of Glasgow, now all of a sudden becomes about her dance with darkness and how it all started. It felt odd to me, even if the characters of Jackie and Clyde, as well as the relationship they build over time, continues to be interesting.
Consensus: Not perfect, Andrea Arnold’s debut, Red Road, definitely benefits from an amazing performance from Kate Dickie, as well as some understated, smart writing that pays closer attention to characters we don’t always get to see in film nowadays.
8 / 10