Directed by Peter Mullan
Starring Conor McCarron, Peter Mullan, Joe Szula, Louise Goodall
On release from 21st January 2011
Neds - Non-educated delinquents
Neds sees Peter Mullan return to the directors' chair some eight years
after The Magdalene Sisters. Set in an early seventies Glasgow of grey
skies and even greyer estates this angry, uneven, but passionate movie
is a coming of age drama with a hefty dose of realism. Neds is a story
of social and personal decay as we see John McGill (Greg Forrest; Connor
McCarron) transform from academic and altar boy to a feared gang member.
John's comfortable childhood world is threatened early on when he is threatened
sadistically by an older boy. What follows is a violent journey through
a place where even meek and mild Jesus has to be (pardon the pun) as hard
The movie concentrates on what happens between the pre and post pubescent
period. In John's Catholic school, where corporal punishment is issued
liberally, it is best not to stand out and pupils are already demoted
and promoted between classes in preparation for the real world. John is
marked out as a swot but he is driven academically. In a pivotal scene
he is interrogated and cruelly dismissed as a type by the mother of a
middle-class friend. An equally hurtful insult comes from the estates'
young gang members who are slack-jawed when they learn that the boy they
have been bullying and stealing from is the brother of expelled hard man
Benny McGill (Joe Szula). After facing down one of the members, John soon
finds life with the Young Car-D, with its camaraderie and wit, an easier
place to inhabit. It's the kind of place where a boy who can't spell carves
out a 'k' instead of a 'c' because it's easier with a knife and, inevitably,
when John returns to school for his third year, he no longer has the same
taste for academia.
In Neds Mullan shows some of the push and pull factors that affect membership
in knife gangs but clearly the movie deals with a particular disposition,
a particular psychology. Sullen with his family, quiet and distanced among
his friends John's psychological and sometimes real solitude is identified
more than once with Robinson Crusoe. Once driven in his studies John will
be equally driven in a life of violence. In moments of extreme violence
he achieves a form of grace and serenity not given to him in everyday
life. In the world he lives in almost everyone suffers. When the teacher
straps John in his Latin class you see in the teachers face that it is
hurting him much more than he could possibly hurt John.
With its' moments of surrealism and some borderline over the top performances
from the adults (in the way Mullan reportedly asked the cast elders to
play it), Neds is not quite social-realism. Mullan, as the violent father,
seems to drift in from another film, appearing like a ghost hovering over
the family. The jaunty soundtrack acts as a counterpoint to the violence
on screen, somewhat like in A Clockwork Orange. In one scene the gangs
clash with blades as 'Cheek to Cheek' rings out in the background. The
scarred faces of battle change the meaning to something much more sinister.
This is a personal, well observed film. Some moments are gloriously of
their pre-health and safety time, as when the sports leader asks the girl
with the hole in her heart if her 'mammie' is okay with her being there
and accepts a nod as permission. Mullan is also good at building tension;
there are many stand-offs and a scene containing a crossbow is particularly
unnerving. However, the film is long and unwieldy and doesn't appear to
know when to stop. The feeling we're left with is that there are no easy
answers and the movie acts like an inarticulate cry for help. The swing
wrapping around itself in tighter decreasing circles could act as a metaphor
for John or indeed the society he lives in.
Comment left by Cp on 7th February, 2012 at 16:40
I love this film, i think benny (johns big brother in the film) is so fit. nomm.