NEDS * * * 1/2
Director: Peter Mullan.
Screenplay: Peter Mullan.
Starring: Conor McCarron, Peter Mullan, Greg Forrest, Joe Szula, John Joe Hay, Richard Mack, Christopher Wallace, Gary Milligan, Steven Robertson, David McKay, Stephen McCole, Gary Lewis.
Following up the quality of “The Magdalene Sisters” was always going to be difficult for writer/director Peter Mullan and although he achieves a similiar hard-hitting authenticity with “Neds” and delivers an impressive retelling of youthful gang culture, he gets himself caught up in some artistic flourishes that don’t quite gel with the stark accomplishment on-screen.
Glasgow, Scotland, 1973; the streets are filled with knife-wielding youths. Caught in the middle, is promising and aspiring teenager John McGill (Conor McCarron). He’s a bright and ambitious lad that’s held back by his alcoholic father (Peter Mullan) and the terrifying legend of his older brother (Joe Szula), who he feels the need to live up to. Peer pressure and a lack of chances in life, turn the young McGill feral. So much so, that his brooding anger surfaces to point of bloody violence, leaving him very little hope in achieving anything that he was fully capable of.
Having grown up in Glasgow, himself, Peter Mullan knows the time, the people and the city very well. This, undoubtedly, comes across in his choice of music, his eye for the style of the 70′s and his brilliant and effective use of Glasgow locations. He also assembles an impressive cast of young, unknown Scottish actors who deliver natural, colloquial, dialogue and excellent performances. Myself, being a working-class Glaswegian, could identify with these characters, their behaviour and the politics of gang culture and can confirm that this is an astute portrait of a very real problem that still exists in Glasgow today. For that reason, Mullan has to be given kudos in not only achieving such authenticity, but by delivering it so vividly.
Respected directors such as, Ken Loach and Mike Leigh, have made a name for themselves with similar ‘kitchen-sink’ dramas and Mullan’s efforts here, command a similar respect. However, despite the realism and attention to detail, Mullan makes the same mistake he did with “Orphans” and injects it with surreal moments – like visions of Christ – that don’t contribute anything positively to the story. It’s understandable why he’d make allusions to the power, manipulation and guilt that comes with a Catholic upbringing in a city like Glasgow – where there is a big religious divide – but they just seem as if they belong elsewhere. These moments are sporadic, buy they’re still jarring enough to make you believe that this is a director serving some egotistical delusion of his own artistic merit. Whereas, he could be concentrating on the very thing that he knows so well.
The film has a lot going for it in terms of it’s accurate portrayal of these times but as it draws to it’s conclusion and the unsure progression of the main character, the film ends rather ridiculously, not really knowing how to end.
Mullan’s attempt at profundity falls flat, but as a portrayal of Glasgow gang culture it’s very observant and accurate. It’s just a shame that he didn’t really know how to tie things up and delivers an ending that didn’t have the distinct aroma of desperation.
(For the record – and those that missed the poster above – NEDS is an abbreviation of ‘Non Educated Delinquents’. It’s the common term for the violent and anti-social youth in Scotland).