Arts Listings

Moving Pictures: A Minimalist Journey Along the Road to Recovery

Friday May 04, 2007

Andrea Arnold’s Red Road, a Scottish film opening this weekend at Shattuck Cinemas, draws the viewer in immediately with its quiet intensity. The film begins with Jackie (Kate Dickie) silently watching a bank of monitors at her job at a security company, each screen presenting a different view of urban Glasgow from cameras positioned around the city.  

The glimpses into everyday working-class life in the city are fascinating and Jackie looks upon them with an endearing combination of benevolence, amusement and boredom. It’s her job and nothing more, but she nevertheless seems to go about it with a certain degree of interest if not pleasure.  

Thus right away we see that Jackie is an observer of life, not a participant. She lives alone and is apparently alienated from her parents and sister. Her only human contact consists of soul-deadening sex with a co-worker in a parked car. Her comfort at the surveillance desk console and her shy, nervous demeanor when she steps beyond it suggest that she is more at ease in this darkened room full of high-tech spying equipment, watching strangers come and go, than she is out in the world.  

She almost appears god-like for a moment as Dickie manages to convey Jackie’s compassion for these strangers. She smiles as a night-shift housekeeper dances to unheard music while going about her work; she furrows her brow with pity while watching a man walk his aging and sickly dog. And when she finally steps out of that room and into the streets, it is as if she is not one of them at all, but a privileged observer who occasionally slums by walking anonymously among those she oversees, taking a role as just another character in the drama she monitors daily. 

Yet once Jackie crosses that line and takes part in that drama, her life becomes a drama all its own. A chance sighting of a familiar face on one of the security cameras sends Jackie on a strange journey. It is apparent that this man is a figure from her past, someone who has somehow hurt her, but Arnold withholds all explanations right up to the end. Instead we watch as Jackie monitors the man for weeks and gains entry to his life, stalking him through a degraded, neglected cityscape, one whose battered streets and grafitti-scarred buildings mirror the heroine’s mental state; years of painful remembrance have taken their toll on her psyche. 

The film is part of a larger project called the Advance Party, in which three directors made three different films using the same characters. Arnold has fashioned a compelling tale out of that raw material, and her direction is strong and focused, yet the film is slightly undermined by its evenness of tone. Those early scenes of quiet watchfulness are engaging, but after 90 minutes the minimalist approach causes the pace to flag.  

But the most troubling flaws in Red Road come when Arnold yields to the threadbare devices by which indie dramas so often seek to prove their indieness: actors willing to appear naked under less-than-flattering lighting conditions; gratuitously graphic sex scenes; and somehow, somewhere, sometime, someone must vomit. Thus maketh a film of great import and honesty. 

But these are minor complaints. Kate Dickie’s portrayal of Jackie is subtle and powerful, and Tony Curran as Clyde inspires just the right blend of allure and recoil. And despite the contrivance that draws these disparate lives together, Arnold has managed to create a memorable and harrowing tale of a woman who must come face to face with her fears before she’s ready to start piecing her life back together. 



Written and directed by Andrea Arnold.  

Starring Kate Dickie, Tony Curran,  

Martin Compston, Natalie Press.  

113 minutes. Not rated. Contains graphic sex. Playing at Shattuck Cinemas.