Road Rage (1998)

“I was quite justified in what I did.”

In the film adaptation of the Ruth Rendell novel Road Rage hordes of protestors descend on the town of Kingsmarkham to stop the construction of a planned bypass. It’s a delicate situation. Detective Chief Inspector Wexford (George Baker) feels that his department is undermanned and that he needs extra forces in the likely event of violence taking place. There’s pressure from the Home Office to construct the bypass with little media attention, and meanwhile 100s of protestors are living in tree-dwellings daring construction workers to continue chopping down trees. If this isn’t bad enough, the body of a young German tourist is found in the forest near Kingsmarkham. There’s a murder to solve, a riot to contain, and a bypass to build.

Road Rage is 197 minutes long, divided into three chapters, and it contains an impressive cast of characters. On the police side of things, there’s Chief Inspector Wexford and his pleasant wife, Dora (Louie Ramsay) who both share certain sympathy with the protestors. Detective Inspector Mike Burden (Christopher Ravenscroft) is never as tolerant as Wexford, and he has little patience for the protestors’ cause. There’s also DS Daman Slesar (James Allen) who has a long history of working deep undercover, and friend DS Malahyde (Isobel Middleton).

Wexford’s investigation of the murder of the German tourist is complicated by the threat of eco-terrorism. The film explores how a righteous cause becomes clouded with violence when a militant eco-terrorist group called “The Sacred Globe” emerges on the scene in Kingsmarkham. With surprisingly sophisticated treatment, the story illustrates the dangers of believing that violence is justified in order to further an actvist movement. The father of the murdered German tourist has as much grief and as many unanswered questions as those who survive an eco-terrorist event. The film asks is there really any difference between these situations? Violent crimes–whether brutally random or those engineered to herald social change–always result in victims. In contrast, the film’s portrayal of the upper-class involvement in the eco-terrorist movement was disappointingly naive, and heavy-handed. The entire eco-terrorist thread was to me, a bit cheesy and pandered to general misconceptions and general ignorance. Nonetheless, in spite of this one criticism, Road Rage is great entertainment, and Rendell fans should be delighted by another riveting Inspector Wexford mystery.

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