For much of Red Road, we share the same purely visual omniscience as the dour central character, a Glaswegian surveillance-camera jockey. Much as Jackie (Kate Dickie) scrutinizes streets and faces on her monitors for signs of malfeasance and distress, we struggle to understand her peculiar behavior after she recognizes someone (friend? foe?) amidst all the footage. Director Andrea Arnold, an Oscar-winner for the short film Wasp, hews closely to Jackie visually but cultivates mystery around the woman’s stalkerish focus on a redheaded rogue (a superb Tony Curran) who lives in a housing project.
There’s a beguiling naturalism in Jackie’s opaque but obviously involved motivations and the well-observed rough stretches of Glasgow (prison-block projects, debris-strewn blocks and lots). But as Arnold begins to trickle in explanations, the effortlessly maintained intrigue degrades into a belabored endeavor skewed by gotcha urges. Jackie’s fraught history with her person of interest leads into an improbable vengeance narrative whose extreme explanation seems overblown instead of tragic. (The details are best kept secret, since the unspoilt first half of the movie at least works quite well thanks to the withholding of information.)
Like the central plot turn to L’Enfant, the movement of Red Road could simply be something you go along with or you don’t. (The parallel also holds for the dedicated care taken with the humble, resolutely ordinary milieu.) At the very least it’s an odd beginning to the film’s greater project — part of a trilogy of Glasgow films by different filmmakers who will use the same characters and draw on the same cast. What comes after a surveillance-powered kitchen-sink fantasy of revenge and redemption?
Opens April 13 at Lincoln Plaza and Landmark’s Sunshine