The last part of the Red Riding trilogy is on shaky ground from the start, a flashback to the year 1974 in which all of the bad men huddle together to discuss their nefarious schemes. It’s John Dawson (Sean Bean) openly plotting with the higher-up coppers we’ve seen in 1974 and 1980; after the ominous buildup of the first two movies, it’s dismaying what a cartoonish cabal these guys are here.
There is worse to come, but 1983 briefly rights itself when it focuses on John Piggott (Mark Addy, another fine character actor, as viewers of Game of Thrones know), a slovenly, overweight lawyer, who is drawn into filing an appeal for the mentally handicapped man who was railroaded for the child killings in 1974. At first you might mistake Piggott for a stock TV detective, the flawed but lovable schlub who is always underestimated by the bad guys. But the character is no clichéd conceit: As his conscience is gradually awoken, Piggott becomes the closest thing Red Riding has to an actual hero, and we root for this sweaty, rumpled fellow to succeed — or at least stay alive.
Meanwhile another conscience is stirring, that of police captain Maurice Jobson (David Morrissey), a bit player from 1974 and 1980; previously we’ve seen just enough of him to know he’s deeply implicated in all the police corruption and cover-ups. Only now, another child is missing, and stolid, blocky, inexpressive Jobson finds that he just can’t go along with the Yorkshire P.D.’s misdeeds any longer. All the beatings, frame-ups and murders not only shock his conscience (better late than never), they haven’t even put an end to the murders of local children.
Admirably, the script never gives Jobson a big moment where he breaks down from guilt, the way an American production might (and where an actor might get to indulge in some Emmy-bait Acting). In keeping with the terse, elliptical style of Red Riding, Jobson’s awakening is largely veiled, something we see only in actor David Morrissey’s eyes. The best moment in 1983 comes when Piggott and Jobson finally meet: The two actors carry the scene, and the viewer can’t help reflecting how much better delineated the more-or-less good guys are in this trilogy compared to the villains. Case in point, now a sinister clergyman, effective as a supporting character in 1980, steps up to the front ranks of the evil bedeviling Yorkshire, in keeping with the trilogy’s worldview of all authority as inherently monstrous.
Another minor character from the earlier installments who steps forward is B.J. (Robert Sheehan), a junkie hustler. In the first two movies, B.J.’s role from the books is scaled down to make him little more than a convenient plot device, popping up in alleys to pass along handy tips to the protagonists as needed. But here, director Anand Tucker and screenwriter Tony Grisoni have made the unfortunate decision to include B.J.’s narration from the book as voiceover. Not only is it distracting, a self-consciously literary device that’s wildly out of place in this context, it emphasizes how sentimentally conceived the B.J. character is. Only poor, wasted, ruined B.J., privy to all the sins of the community, speaks truth — or something like that. (In Peace’s novels, “sentimental” is the last word you’d use to describe the character.) B.J. struck me as kind of ludicrous here, and his one-dimensional, doomed street-angel persona tiresome.
By the time the evil clergyman is leveling a shotgun at poor B.J.’s head, while spouting some portentous serial-killer mumbo-jumbo, 1983 has squandered everything that was compelling about the trilogy. I felt like I was watching Millennium being performed with English accents. The climax borrows from The Silence of the Lambs as well, a sign of how disappointingly movie-ish the whole thing has become.
Even more incongruous (or just plain dumb), at one point Jobson becomes involved with a female medium whose psychic abilities we’re apparently supposed to take seriously. As of this writing I haven’t read David Peace’s novel 1983, but it’s hard to believe the source material could be this corny, or so littered with false notes.
1983 was shot on digital video, and the cinematography and overall mise-en-scene evoke not the actual 1983 but an indie movie of 2009. (Throughout the trilogy, but most pronounced here, I got a sense of filmmakers keeping up with cinematic trends, rather than breaking through to anything original.) Whereas 1980 built upon 1974 in ways that added to our sense of a cohesive world, the script in 1983 fills in blanks with an unseemly haste that suggests the retroactive continuity of an incoherent serial. The latter half of the movie in particular has the awkward pacing of a botched season finale.