Red Road (2006)

Rating: B

Dir: Andrea Arnold
Star: Kate Dickie, Tony Curran, Martin Compston, Nathalie Press

This is the first part in a projected trilogy, named Advance Party, in which three directors tell three different stories, using the same characters played by the same actors. It’s an interesting concept – film-making that obeys specific rules – and the style here is also reminiscent of the rather more famous Dogme 95, with location shooting, natural light and handheld cameras, that in this case at least, work effectively with the film’s claustrophobic intensity. Jackie (Dickie) monitors security cameras that watch over Glasgow, and doesn’t really have a life: some disaster took away both her husband and daughter. One day, she’s shocked to see Clyde (Curran), the figure from her past; she sets out to confront him and ruin his life.

Another tie is the work of Park Chan-wook, who has often covered the idea of revenge as a driving force in someone’s life, giving them something to live for. Here, however, the question is as much whether there are alternative, possibly better paths to redemption – forgiveness, for example. Despite one of the grimmest urban settings we’ve seen; this was definitely not one brought to you by Glasgow Tourist Board – it is a surprisingly hopeful film, showing how the human spirit and its capability to love can overcome even the starkest odds. Dickie is mesmerising and brilliant, holding the film together with a performance of great courage and openness; there’s one scene which you won’t easily forget for its raw intensity. Curran isn’t far behind, taking a character that could easily topple into caricature and giving him a human face – witness his pick-up line in the pub, which I really can’t recommend trying, unless you like hospital food.

Arnold is already an Oscar-winner, having taken the 2005 Academy Award for Best Live-Action Short, for Wasp: this former presenter of British kids’ TV memorably got up on stage there and declared winning to be “the dog’s bollocks,” and her short is also included on this DVD. As a sidelight, I hadn’t realised how omnipresent security cameras are in third-millennium Britain; it’s initially creepy to see Jackie follow people through the CCTV, as they are totally oblivious to her all-seeing eye. That angle eventually does dissipate, and you could argue there isn’t enough going on in the middle to hold your attention fully. It’s worth hanging on though, since the payoff is richly rewarding and fully satisfying.