Directed by: Peter Mullan
Produced by: Rebecca O'Brien
Screenplay by: Peter Mullan
Starring: Conor McCarron
John Joe Hay
Music by: Craig Armstrong
Cinematography by: Roman Osin
Editing by: Colin Monie
Distributed by: New Video Group
Release date(s): October 9, 2010 (Dinard Festival
January 21, 2011 (United Kingdom)
Running time: 124 minutes
Box office revenue (as of publication): £632, 204
To say the least, once again I've taken one of my ten-day week breaks from reviewing. This is the only new film that I have seen recently, but I am planning on getting to see Film Socialisme, the new film Jean-Luc Godard, Project Nim from James Marsh, director of Man On Wire and least one other new film in next few days. Also, there will at some point be reviews for Rango and I Saw The Devil, so keep your eyes posted.
The film for review today is Neds, the latest film by Peter Mullan, whose work as an actor with Ken Loach and Danny Boyle among others has made him a formidable figure in British and Scottish cinema over the past twenty years. His third feature as a director, Neds follows John McGill (Conor McCarron), a young boy who plans on growing up to go to university and become a journalist, unlike his brother Benny (Joe Szula), who has become a figure of notoriety in his local community for violence and delinquency. However, John's curiosity into the culture of 'Neds' that his brother is a part of get the better of him, and we walk alongside John as he becomes engrossed in this culture and descends on a seemingly inevitable downward spiral.
Neds is undoubtedly a very strong movie, but in the same way that This Is England relied on the performance of Thomas Turgoose, equally this film revolves around the pivotal performance of Conor McCarron. Gifted with an amazing expressive range, McCarron is nothing than mesmerising throughout the entire film. His character's arc and variety of emotional states must have been challenging, but he manages to maintain a great degree of control, which makes every scene he is in (more or less the entire film) all the more powerful for it. Also, it is important that despite the fact we see him do some things you wouldn't expect from his demeanour early in the film, we never once lose sympathy for John McGill. I've been of the opinion that Andy Serkis' performance as Caesar in Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes was the best of the year so far, but Conor McCarron's work here has certainly entered another good horse into the race. Also worth of praise is the terrific cinematography by Roman Osin. Neds is a film with a very distinctive and unique look. The film is shot in a guerilla style which brings the film down to earth and gives it an element of realism. On the other hand, the way in which it is lit and the various lens' used on the camera give a wonderful contrast of colour in the film. Despite the cinematography contributing to the film's unflinching brutality, the term that comes to mind with this work is 'savage grace', because there is a real beauty to the film's visual sense. Although a small contribution in terms of actual running time, Craig Armstrong's score is vital to giving the audience the emotional heartstring that the film needs, the ending theme one of the most powerful pieces of film music I have heard for some time. Finally, writer-director Peter Mullan's part in making Neds a great film is certainly without question. Certainly a very personal film for Mullan, the film reeks of autobiography and Mullan constructs Neds as a ballad of sorts for these directionless young men whom the education system and the older generations have abandoned. Despite the film going to some far-out places, it never loses it's sense of realism and believability. The strength and subtlety of Mullan's script lends itself to the story behind Neds. While the 'Neds' are violent thugs, the film is wordy and is firmly entrenched in the sociological/familial drama category, so it also avoids the pitfalls of some these movies, as the 'hoods movie' is now more or less a form of exploitation film. His direction too is nothing less than terrific, as this most dark of films could have been a nightmare to shoot and turned out to be nothing more than dreary nonsense. Mullan's skills as a director have managed to keep the film interesting.
Neds does not have many problems with it, as it is an all-round strong film. However, there are one or two wee things that would detract from it being considered a better film. The film is definitely too long. The scenes themselves taken out of this context would probably work, but when you have all these other parts, the final product adds to less than the sum of its parts. In particular, I think that the scene with Gary Lewis' teacher character attempting to piggyback John McGill does not work. There small things like this that do get to me and deny it from being an even greater film.
Despite these issues, Neds is an extraordinary film. I would urge everyone to see it, regardless of its strong brutality, as it is just wonderful. It feels like a dark fairy tale, helped of course by Roman Osin's cinematography and Craig Armstrong's minimal score, delivering to the audience pure cinematic poetry. Mullan's ballad to the lost boys of Scotland is harrowing, and it boasts a magnificent performance from Conor McCarron. McCarron has the air of a young Ray Winstone about him, and Neds is a masterpiece to be considered alongside movies such as Scum in the depiction of angry young men who have been abandoned or mistreated by those who fail to cater for them correctly. Mullan's message is clear, and I find Neds to be an amazing work. It had me from the opening minute, in which John is played very well by Greg Forrest, and is so far the best film of the year.
The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 9.3/10
The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Hungry (for Pringles!)
P.S. Really do see this movie. Thanks to Shane McCarron (not related to Conor!) for lending me the DVD to this flick
P.P.S. To those in America who run cinemas and distribute films, please get Neds a theatrical release. I do not want to see another great film from the British Isles go straight-to-dvd like Cemetery Junction with little or no marketing machines behind it