The Legend Of Barney Thomson
Cert: 15 / 96 mins / Dir. Robert Carlyle / Trailer
To many moviegoers, (myself included) Robert Carlyle will always be the middle-aged, foul-mouthed killer Francis Begbie from Trainspotting. Which is unfair really, as he's played a variety of other roles too, but after many years of trying to shake the image, he's finally taken the directorial reins and stars now as the middle-aged, foul-mouthed killer Barney Thomson.
This film follows the eponymous Barney, a Glaswegian barber on the verge of a mid-life crisis, whose life and sanity begin to unravel when he accidentally kills his boss moments after being sacked from his job. Because the death looks so obviously like a murder, and because the Glasgow Police are simulateously trying to track a prolific serial killer, Barney decides to get rid of the body with a minimum of fuss. It's then that help arrives from a most unexpected source…
Wonderfully scripted, acted directed and photographed, TLoBT is one of those comedies which will work best for audiences with a dry/twisted sense of humour (cf. Sightseers). In fact, it's probably not unfair to say that the collective cinematic result is far stronger than the story itself. In many ways, the film is a bit too low-key for a directorial debut and feels almost hesitant, despite its overt language, humour and ghoulish subject matter. But Carlyle shows he's really An Actor's Director, and this film is all about the performances (and in that respect, he doesn't give himself an easy ride, either). Ray Winstone plays a very good Ray Winstone as the browbeaten police inspector tracking the serial-killer case, and Emma Thompson is having a lot of fun (and brilliantly) as Barney's foul-mouthed, bingo-addicted mum. But the standout performance for me was Tom Courtenay as Chief Superintendent McManaman, whose soft, Alan Bennett-esque tones belie some of the finest comedic scripting I've heard this year.
Both visually and thematically, The Legend of Barney Thomson is very much like a head-on collision between Trainspotting and Mr Jolly Lives Next Door, and Cinematographer Fabian Wagner's camera captures the urban claustrophobia of East-end Glasgow terrifyingly well. The streets are desaturated, but the film carries enough energy that walking through them never seems like hard work (and if anything, you just want to walk faster so you can be off them). The overbearing grimness of the tale is held at bay by Carlyle's hand, and I look forward to his future projects.
It's not all plain sailing, however. As I've mentioned, the narrative itself seems almost undercooked, not quite making the leap from page to screen. I suspect the books will be just as enjoyable, but for different reasons, having time to paint the surroundings (and supporting characters) more fully. The film just about pulls it off, but you get the feeling it's scrabbling to fill its already-brief 96 minutes. Other aspects, like Barney's first-person narration, are so under-used as to be pointless.
On a more technical front, the incidental music is too loud in the mix, as is much of the background noise, and vast swathes of dialogue disappear through mumbling. And it's not the Glaswegian accents, it's the mumbling. There's the distinct possibility that it was just the audio setup in the screen, of course, but I've had no previous with the cinema in question. Oh, and shouldn't there be some sort of law against a cinema showing a 2.35:1 aspect-ratio film in a 16:9 setup auditorium? The aforementioned Mr. Wagner didn't work his bollocks off making this film look grimily fantastic so that it can be shoved on the only available screen as an afterthought, with black bars projected at the top and bottom ;)
If you only see one movie this year which features interior and exterior shots of Glasgow Barrowlands, make it The Legend of Barney Thomson.
If you can find it near you, sure. That said…
Well, as much fun as the film is, its sparse release-schedule means that you'll probably end up watching it on DVD with a bottle of wine one Sunday night; a task for which it's absolutely ideal.
Well, Robert Carlyle will always be Begbie to me, but he's also very good in this.
Given that it almost runs out of story, yes.
This film stars Robert Carlyle, James Cosmo and Finlay Welsh, all three of whom appeared in 1996's Trainspotting alongside Ewan 'Kenobi' McGregor.
(All roads lead to Kenobi, today.)
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
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