On general release from Fri 24 Jul 2015
Robert Carlyle / UK / 2015 / 93 mins
Film festival openers are difficult beasts. On the one hand, you want to make it clear you’ve considered your audience; on the other, you want to show you’re not afraid to challenge them. When Edinburgh kicked-off proceedings with William Friedkin’s Killer Joe in 2012, it was both high profile enough to draw a crowd and twisted enough to unsettle them. 2014’s Hyena, however, was a misstep, its British talent credentials no excuse for its outright unpleasantness.
With dark comedy The Legend of Barney Thomson, we see a return to safer ground. Perhaps too safe – friend of the festival Robert Carlyle’s directorial debut sure to put bums in seats, but unlikely to have many perched on the edge of them.
Carlyle himself stars as the title character: the kind of simple, no thrills man that even his own mother (an aged-up, over-tanned and leopard print-clad Emma Thompson) thinks is unremarkable. A Glasgow barber with a repertoire of two haircuts and zero small talk, Barney’s life in the background is mirrored by his ongoing demotions at work, his assigned styling chair gradually moving further and further from the shop window.
Before he can find himself out of a job altogether though, an accident changes everything. Unluckily, it also has the side effect of embroiling Barney in a murder investigation, with displaced and disgruntled English copper Holdall (Ray Winstone) determined to prove his worth over local rival, Detective Inspector Robertson (Ashley Jensen).
With plot developments signposted miles in advance, the film rarely surprises – barring, perhaps, a bizarre finale that could almost be considered Coen-esque if only it had the wit. Indeed, Colin McLaren and Richard Cowan’s script frustrates throughout. It may be pleasingly unabashed in its Scottishness in a way too few are, but for every enjoyable moment (Barney’s presence being compared to a ‘shitty cloud’, his mother struggling with an ill-timed biscuit dilemma) there’s more than enough of Winstone stomping around, dismissing locals with outdated rhyming slang, or actors simply swearing at each other, hoping it’ll equal hilarity.
The visuals don’t fair much better. Though Carlyle delivers some good sight gags (such as the reverse shot that shows Barney and his mother sharing her living room with a nicely seated corpse) and occasionally displays a flair for the use of silhouettes, for the most part Fabian Wagner’s cinematography feels murky and lacking in depth. It’s not terrible, just ordinary. Much like Barney? Perhaps. But also, unfortunately, much like the film.