This is Glasgow
As an actor I have always been a fan of Peter Mullan his performances always tend to have heart but until now I only knew him as an actor. So it was with interest I sat down to watch "Neds" to see how this talented actor would approach directing and in many ways it is like his acting, full on. "Neds" is relentless, it is a full on tale of a lad growing up in Glasgow during the 70s and ending up in the violent gang culture of his brother. But it is not a movie without issue most significantly the lack of character development doesn't stop it from being engrossing but makes it sadly bitty.
After finishing primary school John McGill (Greg Forrest/Conor McCarron) is about to start secondary school and gets a rude awakening by an older boy who threatens him. Fortunately John's brother is Benny (Joe Szula), a notorious local trouble maker and having gotten the word to him Benny and his friend attack the boy who threatened John. Whilst John puts his head down and does well at school he finds himself getting drawn to the Glasgow gang culture especially when his friend's mother turns him away from their home. But the more he gets into it, the violence and power the more he is seduced by that feeling.
"Neds" is a very simple movie as it basically chronicles the life of this lad John who ends up going from good guy to bad guy. But whilst simple it is engrossing because of a few things starting with the recreation of the 1970s. Now I never experienced 1970s' Glasgow but Peter Mullan's story reminds me of my teenage years during the 80s closer to London. There were gangs, there was territory and I witnessed a friend go from hard working to ruthless thug who got off on the violence and power and especially the respect it got him.
But there is also the other side, the recreation of the period especially school life. It may seem unbelievable but as late as the early 80s I remember a teacher who would smoke in a play ground and whilst we never had lashings with a leather belt it was not unusual to have knuckles struck with a ruler. Mullen has done an absolute fantastic job of recreating the era as it does bring so many memories back with stellar use of music to not only set the tone but also provide some dark humour.
Now as to the dark humour well "Neds" is a violent movie, we witness stabbings, gang fights as well as a drunken father. But whilst plenty of this is hard hitting especially for those who never encountered something similar as child Mullen also manages to make jokes out of some of it. A rumble between gangs has an unsettling humour about it due to his choice of music and the encounter with Mr. Russell the sarcastic headmaster is also comical as he sarcastically offers John a piggy back and proceeds to throw him into the doors.
And on one final quick positive note the performances are first rate with Greg Forrest delivering a warm performance as the young John, highlighting his innocence and fragility. And then you have the unsettling performance from Conor McCarron who takes the character from a decent young teen to this violent and hateful young man who gets off on the violence almost looking for trouble.
The trouble with "Neds" is that whilst this is the story of John and his journey into violence it surprisingly lacks character development. The only character we really see change is John, the rest of the cast whilst well acted almost stay the same from first meeting to last. And as for John's development well it is episodic so there is no gentle evolving he suddenly turns thug.
What this all boils down to is that "Neds" is an engrossing drama which is hard hitting and well acted. But it is also episodic which unfortunately keeps us at a distance from really getting to know the characters.