NEDS – Review

Neds (2010) 

Directed by Peter Mullan. Starring Conor McCarronLinda CuthbertDavid McKayMarianna Palka

I don’t know much about Peter Mullan, but judging by his body of work, he must have had a seriously troubled childhood (to say the least), though he’s been reported saying that the film is “personal but not autobiographical”.

Neds is his third feature as a director, after Orphans (About four siblings who have to cope with the death of their mother) and The Magdalene Sisters (About young women suffering oppression and brutality at the hands of some over-zealous nuns). This one is essentially the story of teenage boy’s coming of age in the Glasgow of the 1970s and his descent from a potentially good boy to a ned

Neds is short for “Non-Educated Delinquents”  in Scotland. The stereotypical view of a ned is a white adolescent of working class background engaging in hooliganism, petty criminality, vandal behaviour, fighting, underage drinking, smoking and general anti-social behaviour

There are obvious comparisons with This is England by Shane Meadows but this time we are in Scotland. Incidentally, some people may find the thick accent in certain scenes a big obstacle. I heard that in some festivals the film was even shown with subtitles.

Right now the film is being pushed for various Awards here in the UK (BAFTAs and so on), so I came in expecting to like it quite a lot… And unfortunately that is always a recipe for disappointment.

NEDS is well shot with its grim look and the art direction seems to be spot on, setting up the 70s without overdoing it. It all looks and feels real.

The score of the film, mainly made up with low drones and moody strings, is pretty bland and forgettable and the incidental was often used in contrast with the pictures, for example Irving Berling’s Cheek to Cheek played under a fight sequence among 2 rival bands: that wasn’t very subtle, nor, to be honest, very original either  (I suppose he probably did it to distance the audience from the brutal violence of the scene, but we’ve seen this device used many many times before).

I’ve been reading few reviews praising Conor McCarron’s performance, but I actually thought he was quite miscast for the part. I didn’t really find him sympathetic, nor likable enough to care about whether he’s kill anyone or not. He seemed to lack that charisma that a lead actor should have.

Also I didn’t find his change from goody-goody to a ned quite unbelievably abrupt; then again, I am not sure whether that was a problem with his performance or with the script itself. On one hand I felt the shift happened to quickly, one the other hand it was obviously telegraphed from the script right from the start.

However I did like all the secondary characters in the film. Apparently the cast was largely  made of untrained people, and they all added extra injection of realism to the grim story.

To be completely honest I found “NEDS” way too long and fairly messy in its episodic structure. I’m also beginning to find the brutal violence of films like these a bit too repetitive and pointless. In a way I felt like I’d seen this film even before I actually saw it for the first time. And although it started off quite promisingly, it then fell quickly into predictable clichés.

There were only few surprises here and there: the ending (with the non-too-subtle metaphor with the lions) and a scene with a crucifix (which I personally found of poor taste)  being the only two worth mentioning and not necessarily in a good way.

Just because a film talks about serious issues in a serious way, it doesn’t necessarily make it a good film. There was very little in NEDS I haven’t seen before and despite some good individual scenes, but on the whole I felt that the film had said everything it had to say after the first 30 minutes, the rest was just pretty gratuitous and the open ending was just a bit disappointing.

I much prefer Peter Mullan‘s first two films, in fact I loved the The Magdalene Sisters, another tough film, for sure, but at least a more original one with more of grip on the story, the style (NEDS was a mish mash of styles) and and actual ending!


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