Friday, 12 January 2018

Review #1,292: 'Neds' (2010)

After spending much of the 1990's making a name for himself as an intense character actor in the likes of Trainspotting and My Name Is Joe, Peter Mullan announced himself as a director to watch with 1998's Cousins. He followed that four years later with the powerful The Magdalene Sisters, but didn't make another film until eight years later with his most personal project to date, Neds. His tough upbringing in a rough area of Glasgow meant that his talents in front of the camera would normally be employed in tough, intimidating roles, and Mullan drew upon his experiences as a young man for Neds, a social realist drama depicting an academically promising young boy's descent into gang culture and into the footsteps of his notorious older brother.

'Neds' stands for Non-Educated Delinquents, a term I heard often during my time living in Edinburgh, and one applied to the sort of tracksuit-wearing hooligans also labelled as 'scallies' or 'chavs', depending on which area of the UK you're from. The 'ned' here is John McGill, played by Greg Forrest as a youngster growing up in 70's Glasgow who hopes to use his intelligence to make something of himself, but finds himself pulled onto the streets due to a number of factors: from his disinterested, cane-happy teachers to the pressure of living up to his brother's reputation. He grows taller and broader (to be played by Conor McCarron) and quickly makes a name for himself, participating in petty crime and street fights, and rebelling against his school education. His home isn't a happy one, and the family live under the tyrannical rule of John's father (played by Mullan). Mr. McGill isn't much to look at, but he has a presence terrifying enough to silence a room when he enters, and a tendency to come home drunk and bawl abuse at his long-suffering wife.

Mullan has a real talent for staging tense situations, with some of the events played out in Neds no doubt taken directly from real experiences. A booze-fuelled neighbourhood party quickly deteriorates into smashed windows and a mass brawl, with the thugs brandishing the ugliest of weapons designed to cause maximum harm. There's heart and humour too, and Mullan manages to keep John sympathetic throughout, despite his questionable behaviour. Despite his concentration, Mullan drags the film out longer than is needed, and a number of the climactic scenes are suited to be the film's final moment. A swerve into drug-fuelled surrealist territory is well-intended but doesn't really work when wedged into the film's ultra-realist aesthetic, and the scene feels out-of-place and unintentionally amusing. Still, this is raw, unflinching film-making from a director clearly hoping to draw attention to the plight of youngsters growing up in such grim working-class surroundings, where respect is earned through brutality and allegiances are decided by which side of the bridge you live on.

Directed by: Peter Mullan
Starring: Conor McCarron, Greg Forrest, Joe Szula, Mhairi Anderson, Peter Mullan
Country: UK/France/Italy

Rating: ****

Tom Gillespie

Neds (2010) on IMDb

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