Conor MCCarron, Peter Mullan, Greg Forrest, Louise Goodall, Gary Lewis, Marianna Palka
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
Tribeca Film (USA)
The third film from writer/director Peter Mullan, after Orphans and the incredible The Magdalene Sisters, NEDS finds Mullan as angry and intense as ever with his fury this time directed at the roots of violence both communal and familial. Set in the 1970's Glasgow of Mullan's youth, NEDS brings us the story of a young John McGill (Conor McCarron plays older John, Greg Forrest the younger John), a promising youth growing up in not so promising circumstances that threaten to derail his outstanding potential.
The film opens with a scene revealing John's potential as he receives academic recognition and praise from his school. This is not to last, however, as his brutally violent alcoholic father (Peter Mullan) is a constant obstacle, his mother is virtually useless and his brother (Joe Szula) is a criminal whose reputation in school is so firmly implanted in the institution's psyche that it plagues John nearly to the point of condemnation. In addition to his domestic challenges, John is growing up within the confines of an incredibly violent area of Glasgow where gangs run rampant and are relentlessly brutal.
If you thought The Magdalene Sisters was intense, you might well prepare yourself for the emotional and physical brutality contained within NEDS. NEDS stands for "Non-educated Delinquents," essentially what it is well expected will become of John, who is surrounded by a cast of characters who might as well be caricatures as they are so dramatically reprehensible that it's nearly impossible to believe anyone could survive the circumstances let alone thrive through them.
Better than nearly any other director working today, Mullan is able to get to the very essence of man's cruelty to man in a way that really transcends cinema. With The Magdalene Sisters, Mullan went after the Catholic Church. Here, Mullan explodes his cinematic fury in the direction of the political system, the educational system and, essentially, each of us as we have a role in the cycles of abuse and violence that continue.
Mullan describes Neds as "personal but not autobiographical," and virtually every word of the film's dialogue screams out of such a personal investment in these characters, these words and the subjects contained within the film. It is heartbreaking and disturbing to watch John's social and psychological disintegration under the weight of family pressures, gang attacks and the brutality of the system in which he lives.
It helps to have an actor as good as Conor McCarron, making his feature film debut here in what should unquestionably be a star-making turn. The challenge McCarron faced was how to accurately and honestly portray John's succumbing to his environment while keeping him, if not sympathetic, at least not truly reprehensible. It's a marvelous, unforgettable performance not too far removed from that of Gabourey Sidibe's Oscar-nominated performance in Precious. Peter Mullan is effective as a stunningly abusive father, while Mullan's frequent cinematic contributors show up here in supporting roles to great effect including Gary Lewis and others. Mullan cast a large number of the supporting roles, 80% is reported, with non-actors including many from Glasgow and surrounding areas. As he's proven time and again, Mullan works with actors beautifully and expertly draws out of them magnificent performances.
D.P. Roman Osin's camera work is extremely effective, altering itself with the film's lighter moments, and yes it has them, and its remarkably intense moments. Mark Leese's production design greatly enhances the film's darker tones, while Craig Armstrong's original score quietly undergirds the film's emotional core.
Having had its world premiere at TIFF this year, Neds is an official selection of the 2011 Indianapolis International Film Festival, July 14-24.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic