Peter Mullan/UK-France-Italy 2010/122 min
Showing @ Cineworld now
Peter Mullan’s third film as writer/director tackles knife-culture and adolescent anger on the stark estates of seventies Glasgow. Stressing the influence that environment has in shaping character, the Scottish thesp has delivered a gruelling and highly authentic-feeling movie that recalls the brutal harshness of Ken Loach’s social-realist works. The plot follows bright working-class kid John McGill (Conor McCarron) who effortlessly works his way to the top of his class. Once there, however, he finds the social snobbery of other more middle-class kids isolating, and with a part-absent/part-abusive father at home, McGill inevitably falls in with the local non-educated delinquents. Soon knives replace pencils and John goes on a violent downward spiral until finally he makes Mean Streets‘ Johnny Boy look like The Simpsons’ Rod and Todd Flanders. Can he rise above his surroundings or will they continue to pull him down?
Aiming for authenticity, Mullan has apparently cast local kids to act, and while this undoubtedly adds to the realism, you can’t help wishing he’d found a slightly more engaging lead; however much McCarron as a person fits the part, some emotional beats feel undercooked. But on the whole this dedication to realism pays off; from the stiflingly drab estates on which the neds are formed to the period detail of leather-jackets and Doc Martins; and most importantly in the writing. Like the knife crime in the film, Mullan’s script is sharp and penetrating; the violence is disturbing and highly realistic but never sensationalised, with the emphasis instead put on the factors that turn John into what he is; yes, there’s the usual broken family and alcoholism, but unlike Andrea Arnold’s overrated Fish Tank, Mullan understands that social stratification is the foundational flaw upon which other problems rest, and it’s this that his film expertly demonstrates; premiering on the very week that Osbourne takes his own knife to the state, this can’t help but resonate loudly.