Red Road Movie Review
For all the watching going on in Red Road, there is precious little safety -- in fact one of the tropes that writer/director Arnold (in an extremely impressive feature debut) insistently returns to is the resolute unsafety of these people's worlds, no matter how much technology surrounds them. Arnold's protagonist is Jackie (the fantastically affecting Kate Dickie) a bracingly cold and shut-off woman who works at the City Eye, controlling a bank of cameras with a joystick, occasionally zooming on something menacing or just plain out of the ordinary, watching. Her contact with the human race is limited practically to these TV screens, having shut herself off from her parents and seemingly keeping no friends; the only relationship with any regularity we see is a functional and depressing affair carried on with a married man occasionally in his van. Arnold sinks viewers deep into Jackie's self-induced loneliness, letting out only the faintest hints about what tragedy has pushed her into this suffocating state (Was there a husband? A daughter?), before Jackie sees a man's face on the camera one day which she remembers from her past.
At this point, Red Road shifts swiftly from a coolly appreciative voyeur's take on a voyeur's life to something more unnerving. Jackie starts obsessively tracking the movements of the man, all of which we know about him is that he's recently out of jail (where he may have been put for a crime that had something to do with Jackie) and now living in a grim towering block of council flats. Quickly, Jackie moves from watching him on camera to following him in person, quietly circling this prey who seems dangerous enough to be well left alone. With an unwavering precision, Arnold tracks Jackie's steady and mystifying progress toward the man -- played with a dangerous bonhomie by Tony Curran -- in a quiet but none-too-stealthy manner, as though seeking her own annihilation at the hands of this ginger-haired stranger with a secret to unleash, and maybe even set her free.
Though possessed of a certain modern lo-fi thriller mindset, with its stark mise-en-scene and handheld camerawork, Arnold's work has a thrilling rawness that's really more akin to Ken Loach than Hitchcock (one of her many superb stars, the puckish Martin Compston, starred in Loach's Sweet Sixteen). Red Road is a film so dedicated to its workaday Glaswegian roots that the English subtitles which appear seem at first to be a joke (could their accents be that thick?) are quickly clung to like a life line (yes, indeed they are that thick). There's no obvious, touristy totems of Scottishness; but for the accents, the average outsider could believe the action to be taking place in any working-class British Isles city. Perhaps that's the point: the eyes in the sky, bleak housing towers and people clinging roughly to each other for no good reason but to stave away the loneliness; this could be anywhere and so feels like nowhere. It's the people who are specific and real -- punishingly so.
She's on a road to somewhere... maybe Edinburgh!