Forget it, Jake; it’s Northern England: Cynicism floods these three feature-length adaptations of novelist David Peace’s crime saga, stories tarred with cigarette ash, bad manners and lost souls. Peace (also the original author of The Damned United) had four books in which to stretch out; here, his decade-long span from 1974 to 1983 has been condensed into three movies—and, it must be said, softened in the final installment. Simply by dint of the transfer to film, you lose a raft of excoriating details. Moreover, this is meat-and-potatoes genre work, certainly superior to a Hollywood product like Edge of Darkness, but not by much. (Festival bookings for the trilogy are overstating its virtues.)
IFC is presenting the entire trilogy for a $25 admission, with which you get popcorn and a program. If you sign up for the five-hour marathon, at least the peaks of the uneven package come early: Director Julian Jarrold’s initial section, 1974, plunges us snout-deep into a bruised, corduroy-clad Yorkshire, one that young cub reporter Eddie (Garfield) can’t stand long. Murders put him on a trail to a rapacious businessman (Bean) and a dead-eyed plaything (Vicky Cristina Barcelona’s Rebecca Hall). The performances carry the day even if the plot is your typical post-Seven miserablism. Superior is the taut following chapter, 1980, helmed by Man on Wire’s James Marsh and commanded by the mighty Paddy Considine as an investigator confounded by local corruption and a regrettable extramarital dalliance. So far, so dank, thanks to an impressive effort by trilogy screenwriter Tony Grisoni. But the tension unravels with 1983, flashback-laden and obvious in its revelations. Look at the bright side: Unlike many of the saga’s unfortunate victims, you aren’t tied to your chair.