In “Red Road,” Jackie, a surveillance-camera operator, sees, on a video monitor, a man she recognizes, and she obsessively tracks and confronts him. Who is this apparent menace from her past? What did he do? What is her motive as she becomes darkly involved with him?
These compelling questions are addressed in this intelligent thriller, the feature debut of Oscar-winning British short-film maker Andrea Arnold. And the underlying human complexities Arnold presents make the drama even more satisfying.
The film is a tale of pain, retribution and catharsis that contains hints of everything from “Rear Window” to the works of provocateur Catherine Breillat, but is dominated by a mix of boldness and bleakness that suggests a style all Arnold’s own. Big-screen newcomer Kate Dickie gives these elements a terrific conduit in the role of Jackie.
A damaged woman who watches over a rough Glasgow neighborhood for a Big Brotherly-ish security company, Jackie gets mild kicks from spying on strangers, but she shifts into active gear when Clyde (Tony Curran) — an ex-con somehow connected to her grief — appears on her cluster of video screens. Overcome with anger, she stalks Clyde, hooks up with him, and winds up at the flat he shares with a young couple (Martin Compton, Natalie Press). Calculation, abandon, attraction and repulsion combine in a graphic sex scene. Revenge and revelation follow.
There’s one faulty element in writer-director Arnold’s story, and it’s a biggie. The drama never entirely recovers from this preposterous plot development.
But the movie’s still one of those stirring imports that make the art-house experience worthwhile — in this case, not only an engrossing adult thriller but also a textured exploration of emotional pain.
With minimal dialogue, Arnold and the riveting Dickie gradually reveal the specifics of Jackie’s trauma and the intricacies of the tangle of feelings driving her. None of the characters is as pure or as vile as they seem.
Also noteworthy is the treatment of voyeurism, which provides humor but also addresses how security systems violate privacy. Also, images of economically and psychically depressed Scotland are poetic.
We’ll see more of these characters and actors in two additional films, which will make up a trilogy conceived by the Scotland-based Sigma and the Danish Zentropa companies. In the meantime, “Red Road” stands alone strongly.
Red Road ***
Starring Kate Dickie, Tony Curran, Martin Compton, Natalie Press
Written and directed by Andrea Arnold
Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes