Written by Caballero Oscuro
Red Road paints a disturbing picture of our security-obsessed culture, demonstrating the inherent abuse of power made possible by widespread deployment of security cameras. The film is based in Glasgow, Scotland, but could easily be transported to any other metropolis equipped with a sophisticated web of security cameras. We’re now accustomed to cameras filming us in public at all times, whether by freeway and street cameras monitoring traffic and accidents, store surveillance, or even security cameras in our workplace, but the film may cause viewers to question their complacency about this spread of Orwellian omnipresence.
Jackie is a CCTV operator in Glasgow, tasked with monitoring suspicious activity and reporting to the police as needed. Her job consists of sitting behind a massive array of monitors that allows her to track her subjects by security cameras across her assigned corner of the city. One day, she spots a man who is clearly familiar to her for some reason, then begins to meticulously track his movements and actions even though he isn’t committing any crimes. Eventually, she plots to insert herself into his life, stepping from behind the cameras to embark on personal interaction with him. She also meets his volatile flatmate and the flatmate’s girlfriend, although they remain peripheral characters for the duration of the film.
We don’t know much about Jackie, and we’re consistently kept at arm’s length for nearly the entire film. We know she’s a loner, we know she has occasional loveless trysts with a local van driver, but we have no idea why she’s trailing her target or the nature of their history. Unfortunately, this works as a detriment to the film, as we’re given little narrative reason to care about Jackie or her quest other than to stick around for the final reveal. Jackie exhibits extreme distaste for her target but doggedly continues her pursuit until she’s able to put herself in a position of power over him to get to her true objective. Suffice it to say that her ends may justify her extreme and morally ambiguous means, but the journey to get there becomes somewhat tedious.
Feature film newcomer Kate Dickie plays the role of Jackie with an icy detachment that expertly conveys the damaged state of her character. Although we’re given no initial signals whether to root for her or fear her, her performance commands attention until we learn the nature of her plan. Jackie’s emotional isolation is an interesting counterpoint to her job as the all-seeing eye of Glasgow, where she’s tasked with caring about complete strangers even though she has completely shut herself off from relationships in her personal life.
Red Road is the debut feature effort by British writer/director Andrea Arnold, a previous Oscar winner (short film Wasp). It has garnered significant acclaim in advance of its US release, including the 2006 Cannes Grand Jury Prize and an armful of Scottish BAFTA awards. It’s also part of a unique plan called the Advance Party Concept involving three directors developing individual films based on the same characters. All characters must appear in all of the films, so if the plan continues it seems likely that the next act will more prominently feature the supporting couple from this film.
Red Road is now playing in limited release in select markets, check your local listings for additional information.