Neds (18)

Directed by Peter Mullan
Starring Conor McCarron, Peter Mullan, Joe Szula, Louise Goodall
On release from 21st January 2011

Reviewed by Jimmy Stanton

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 as nails.

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.

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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.